Microsoft/ LinkedIn and Democracy

Forbidden City, North Entrance © PP


           GAFA plus the letter M have their merit. They can be both wonderful instruments that have changed the world by transforming its communication as well as universal vectors of policies and ideologies aimed at changing the destiny of individuals and the orientation of entire communities.

If we only consider their merits, it is unfortunate that Microsoft decided to put an end to LinkedIn’s adventure in China. That is at least one of the interpretations of the decisions that have just been made public. Some also blame the announced departure, after Twitter and Facebook, on the many obstacles put in place by the Chinese authorities to the uncontrolled development of the firm. The presentation of the withdrawal by some LinkedIn managers itself fuels this version of the events itself (see “a significantly more challenging operating environment and greater compliance requirements“).

On the US side, the main reasons put forward emphasize the role of LinkedIn as a “job exchange” which would have worked rather effectively when the purpose of “social network” would not have been achieved. What does that mean in this regard? That the promotion of a western way of life and values would have met with some limits? It is indeed entirely conceivable that the regulations and controls of the Chinese officials concerned did not facilitate the realization of this vast project.

It does not seem that a rational economic analysis was at the origin of Microsoft’s decision which underlines, and let’s give  credit where credit is due, that it did not put its purely economic interests first. Did Microsoft indeed set itself a political, even civilizing mission? 

If this were the case, it would be worrying from the point of view of the separation of powers dear to the liberal constitutional state order if an economic operator were to turn so openly, even if it has at least the merit of being clear, into a strong arm of a power.

In practice, it is now likely that it will be more difficult for us to engage with our Chinese partners or our foreign correspondents also residing in China. Would this free dialogue have less of an interest than a kind of agitprop for the Chinese people alone? Would such an evolution, which consists in erecting new barriers in a world that was believed to be making progress on the path of globalization in terms of its most positive aspects, be considered as progress if this pattern were confirmed? 

If Microsoft/ LinkedIn entered in its turn, as an executing tool , in the show of strength with China, and President Biden has just welcomed the decision to withdraw, the first victims would be first and foremost the Chinese (over 54 millions users) those who are most open to both internal and external dialogue. They would therefore be victims of a form of abandonment and this would be similar, all things being equal, to that of the Afghans brutally abandoned in Kabul in the middle of the ford. This is neither the first nor the last example of a certain policy of power.

In the end, extrapolating from the Chinese case, if we were sadly curl up in our national spaces, then GAFA should also be concerned about democracy. The latter is obviously ill, as the drama of Capitol Hill showed, which was anything but an accident. Here is an immense for Microsoft, which likes to boast of noble missions surpassing the down-to-earth logic of companies. This also raises the question of regulating the activity of a global group, sometimes substituting itself for the legislator and the States. The question had already arisen immediately after the events of January 2021 in Washington because of the censorship of certain political tweets decided by the platforms themselves.

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