WILL FACEBOOK COME TO CHINA?
March 30, 2016
Facebook creator and CEO Mark Zuckerberg attended the China Development Forum last weekend, where he addressed a group of high-powered representatives from the global business community. He spoke alongside Jack Ma, a Chinese tech counterpart and owner of the extremely successful Alibaba Group.
Media outlets characterized his trip as a “charm offensive,” intended to persuade China to allow its citizens to access Facebook. During his time in Beijing, Zuckerberg held a rare meeting with Communist Party Propaganda Chief Liu Yunshanin. They discussed the potential for Facebook’s launch and integration to the PRC in the future.
The PRC presents an enormous and lucrative market for Facebook, heretofore untapped. Since 2009, the website has been blocked by Chinese censors following riots in Xinjiang believed to have been facilitated by social media. In the subsequent seven years, China’s internet restrictions have only grown tighter. Most websites with user-generated content remain inaccessible in the PRC, with the exception of Wikipedia, where only sensitive articles are censored. Of course, Chinese netizens can take steps to circumvent the so-called “Great Firewall” and access these blocked sites, but enduring the rigmarole necessary to visit, along with the taboo associated with visiting a censored website, does diminish their presence and influence in China.
Zuckerberg’s interest in China is both professional and personal; he is married to Priscilla Chan, a Chinese American woman. He has famously studied Mandarin and even conducted a few interviews in the language. He is undoubtedly familiar with the Chinese phonetic rendering of Facebook, “Feisebuke” （非死不可）which translates literally as “doomed to die” – a tongue-in-cheek reference to the site’s failure to succeed in China thus far.
If Zuckerberg truly wants Facebook to enter the Chinese market, he will be forced to make some tough decisions about how much he is willing to compromise with PRC censors. Most likely, Chinese authorities will allow access to Facebook within China only if the website’s data is stored where the government can have unfettered access to it. If Facebook acquiesces, the implications would be serious; the company will be held responsible in the court of public opinion if activists are located and punished using data from the site.
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Compiled and edited by Rachel E. Peniston