China blocks LinkedIn, ramps up Internet censorship

The social networking site LinkedIn has been blocked in China, a move that analysts say is tied to Chinese government efforts to suppress mention of a “Jasmine Revolution” on the Internet.

On Friday morning, LinkedIn was inaccessible from Beijing, producing an error message. Linkedin confirmed via email that the site has been blocked for some users in China. “This appears to be part of a broader effort in China going on right now, involving other sites as well,” said Hani Durzy, a Linkedin spokesman.

Internet censorship is prevalent in China. Content and Websites deemed politically sensitive are routinely taken down or blocked. But in the past several weeks, government censorship has grown more restrictive following mass protests in the Middle East that have toppled governments there. The term “Jasmine Revolution” refers to the pro-democratic movement that began in Tunisia last December and spread to other Middle Eastern countries.

Calls on the Internet for China to stage their own “Jasmine Revolution” began last week.

Chinese government censors, however, were quick to prevent any mention of the term from spreading far. This past weekend, the term “Jasmine Revolution” was blocked in searches on Chinese microblog sites. Users were also barred from posting information using the term on Chinese social networking sites like Renren.com.

Mention of the Jasmine Revolution has also begun appearing on LinkedIn. One user with the screen name “Jasmine Z” expressed their opinion on the potential for revolution in China via posts on the site.

“Whoever was trying to do this thought LinkedIn would be a good way to get into China,” said Bill Bishop, an independent analyst who watches the China IT market. But the government was quick to catch on and blocked the site, he added.

The blocking of LinkedIn could follow the path of other U.S.-based sites that have faced troubles with China’s Internet censors. In 2009, following ethnic riots in China’s western Xinjiang region, both Facebook and Twitter were blocked. The Chinese government also decided to shut down the Internet in the region for several months.

The Chinese government has “been explicit in that they view foreign social networking sites as potential tools for subversion,” Bishop said. “It’s a surprise LinkedIn wasn’t blocked earlier.”

In deciding to block both Facebook and Twitter, the Chinese government also made way for China’s own social networking sites to fill in the void and become popular. The country now has several Twitter and Facebook clones. The country itself has the world’s largest Internet population at 457 million users.

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