What is Facebook willing to do to get into China?

Facebook is reported to have created a tool to allow a third party to censor its content – with an eye to finding a way into the Chinese market.

Ted S. Warren/Reuters
Chinese President Xi Jinping (C) talks with Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg (R) as China's top Internet regulator Lu Wei (L) looks on, during a gathering of CEOs and other executives at Microsoft's main campus in Redmond, Washington on September 23, 2015.

Seeking a route to break into an untapped market of 1.4 billion people in China, Facebook may be exploring a third-party censorship tool to block certain posts in the country, compromising one of its core principles to grow its social media empire.

China blocked access to the social network in 2009, deeming it a violation of the country’s strict policies on censorship and creation of online, user-generated content. Several employees spoke to The New York Times anonymously about a new tool the company has begun building that would allow censorship of certain posts before they appear, a feature that could make the site more appealing to governments that take a heavy-handed approach to censorship in their digital spheres.

The company hasn’t officially announced or unveiled any new technologies that would bridge that gap.

“We have long said that we are interested in China, and are spending time understanding and learning more about the country,” Debbie Frost, a Facebook spokeswoman, said in a statement to The Washington Post. “However, we have not made any decision on our approach to China. Our focus right now is on helping Chinese businesses and developers expand to new markets outside China by using our ad platform.”

Sources told the Times that Facebook has been working on software that would block posts from appearing in news feeds linked to specified geographic areas by allowing a third party, such as a Chinese partner company, to scan the network for popular posts that violate Chinese standards and block them.  

While the company has publicly championed free speech, Facebook has also previously restricted content in Pakistan, Russia, and Turkey, acquiescing to the cultural and legal demands of foreign nations. Yet it has also received backlash for censoring or blocking content that violated its guidelines but served an important public interest in countries where free speech is a protected right.  

In September, the company came under fire after it blocked an iconic Vietnam War photo, citing child nudity as a justification for censorship. Espen Egil Hansen, the editor at Norway’s largest newspaper, which published the photo, decried the practice.

"If you wish to increase the real understanding between human beings, you have to offer more liberty in order to meet the entire width of cultural expressions and discuss substantial matters," Mr. Hansen wrote in an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. "Editors cannot live with you, Mark, as a master editor."

Facebook issued an apology for blocking the photo, vowing to revamp its algorithms to prevent similar instances in the future.

Mr. Zuckerberg has spent time learning basic Mandarin, visiting with internet officials in China, and cultivating a friendly relationship with President Xi Jinping. So far, those efforts have resulted in an advertising partnership between Chinese companies and the social media site, but those in the company say the nation and Facebook aren’t close to striking a deal on civilian usage.

Sources close to the project say that Zuckerberg has supported and defended the censorship initiative, despite its apparent clash with Facebook’s ideals to “make the world more open and connected.”

“It’s better for Facebook to be a part of enabling conversation, even if it’s not yet the full conversation,” Zuckerberg said in an internal meeting over the summer, unnamed employees told the Times.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to What is Facebook willing to do to get into China?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today