American Student Designs a Human Rights Poster, Gets Censored on LinkedIn

This week George Mason University senior April Yoo took home a $1,000 first prize for her winning entry in a human rights poster design competition. But on Nov. 2, shortly after she announced her good news on LinkedIn, she received a message from the social network saying that her profile was blocked in China.

The subject of the poster and the contest is Falun Gong, a peaceful meditation discipline based on the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. The practice became wildly popular in China in the 1990s, being practiced by 1 in 13 Chinese for its physical and spiritual benefits. However, fearing its popularity, the Chinese Communist Party began a genocide in 1999, kidnapping and torturing practitioners to force them to renounce their faith. The brutality victims have suffered is well documented, and continues today in secret prisons throughout China.

The notice Yoo received from LinkedIn reads:

“Due to the presence of specific content on your profile, your profile is not currently viewable in China…While we strongly support freedom of expression, we recognized when we launched [a localized version of LinkedIn in China in February 2014] that we would need to adhere to the requirements of the Chinese government in order to operate in China.”

In response to this censorship, Yoo told Friends of Falun Gong, “I knew Chinese censorship was harsh… but it feels different and very disturbing when I’m the subject of the censorship in China.”

LinkedIn explicitly states that its mission does not “stress ethics or any sort of support of human rights” but simply is to “connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful.”

Ironically, Yoo’s profile is now invisible to more than 13 million Chinese users.

“This clearly shows that the Chinese government is blocking anyone who tries to talk or talks about Falun Gong and justice in the country,” she said.

Chinese Internet censorship operates on finding and blocking keywords deemed “sensitive” by the Chinese Communist Party. They include “Tibet independence,” “forced organ harvesting,” “democracy,” and of course, “Falun Gong.”

‘Take a Closer Look’

Yoo was moved to participate in the poster design contest after learning about the persecution earlier this year.

“When I was visiting Washington D.C. this spring, I saw a woman giving out pamphlets about the persecution of Falun Gong in China. Many people passed by and neglected the pamphlets, but I was curious about them,” Yoo said.

Click to view April Seo Young Yoo's poster design.
Click to view April Yoo’s poster design.

“After I researched it, I was in shock and I thought people should not ignore what is happening in China. Through this poster design competition, I wanted to let people know what was happening behind the words ‘Falun Gong.’ I wanted to inform them about devastating human rights abuses in China; I wanted to tell them that Falun Gong practitioners are doing more than just giving out pamphlets to strangers.”

Yoo’s design challenges the viewer to look more closely at Falun Gong. At first glance, the poster features a mother and daughter handing out informational material. Behind their simple gesture, however, is a patchwork of photos representing the varied experiences of Falun Gong practitioners. Some photos show them doing the meditation exercises in peace; others show the gruesome results of police brutality. Among them are interspersed images of supporters calling for an end to the persecution.

The poster contest is held by Friends of Falun Gong, a non-profit organization whose mission is to support Falun Gong practitioners’ freedom of belief. Its chief activities are to raise awareness about the persecution, to give the public an outlet to show their support for Falun Gong, and to bring an end to the violence perpetrated by the Chinese regime.

“We are outraged that a major social network would censor people who support human rights,” said Friends of Falun Gong executive director Alan Adler. “We don’t think it’s appropriate for U.S. corporations to support persecution of innocent people. By blocking this news, LinkedIn is knowingly or unknowingly aiding and abetting the brutality against Chinese people of faith.”

Read more about how LinkedIn connects with Beijing to censor Falun Gong.