Last updated: February 25, 2011 2:16 pm

Chinese internet censorship hits LinkedIn

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LinkedIn, the social networking site for professionals, was blocked for more than 24 hours in China as the government ramped up internet censorship in the wake of an online pro-democracy campaign.

Users in the country regained access to the site on Friday afternoon. Earlier in the day, the company had confirmed that LinkedIn was being blocked for some in China. “This appears to be part of a broader effort in China going on right now, involving other sites as well,” said LinkedIn.

The temporary cut-off is typical of the impact of web censorship felt by sites that Beijing considers sensitive. Access to Google has also been patchy at times since the internet company relocated its Chinese search operation to Hong Kong last year because it was no longer willing to censor results.

But Beijing’s decision to restore LinkedIn is also being seen as a reassuring sign that the authorities are unwilling to cut web access drastically. “The internet is far too important for China’s economy,” said Bill Bishop, an independent analyst.

Some LinkedIn users in China started reporting on Thursday that they couldn’t access the site unless they used tools such as virtual private networks to circumvent the Chinese government’s internet blockages.

A LinkedIn user under the name Jasmine Z set up a discussion group on the site last week on which she called herself a “dissident” and said she hoped for democracy in China.

The disruption of the service comes as Beijing is trying to crush attempts to use online appeals to spark a “Jasmine revolution” in China inspired by the wave of protests sweeping the Middle East.

Anonymous internet users have been calling for gatherings demanding democracy every Sunday in more than a dozen Chinese cities. The first attempt last weekend produced a large turnout of police and foreign media and a crowd of onlookers in Beijing, but no visible protest.

Following that event the authorities have cracked down on dissidents and stepped up already pervasive measures to censor the web.

In a further sign of authorities’ heavy countermeasures against possible demonstrations, workers put up big blue metal fences on Friday demarcating a ‘construction site’ in the middle of the downtown Beijing pedestrian street where the anonymous organisers have called on citizens to gather on Sunday.

A notice on the fence said the road surface had caved in, making urgent repairs necessary. The fences are located in a way that would force a large crowd to divide on both sides of the street and make it easier for police to control access to the McDonalds restaurant, the location where the organisers have called people to assemble on Sunday.

Attempts to post content containing the term “Jasmine” on Sina Weibo, China’s largest microblog, failed on Friday. The Chinese name of Jon Huntsman, the US ambassador in China, has also become a “sensitive term”.

The world’s largest social media sites including Twitter, Facebook and Youtube have long been blocked in China.

Alternative homegrown services are booming and are often being used to spread and discuss information about social problems and misrule at the local level . But outright debate of the communist party’s monopoly on power is a taboo and Chinese internet companies are quick in removing any user-generated content that ventures in that direction.

The recent ”Jasmine Revolution” appeals have originated exclusively from Chinese dissident websites based outside the country and distributed through Twitter.

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