Facebook Says It Hasn't Yet Decided How to Deal with China

Reportedly, a new tool censoring news based on location was created to help Facebook get into China, but it could be an experiment that may never be used.

Is the world's largest and most profitable social network planning to surrender to internet censorship in China for business reasons?

The New York Times reported Nov. 23 that Facebook is working on specialized software that would restrict certain stories from showing up in its news feeds based upon a user's location.

If this software were to be deployed, it would mark the first time that a media tool enabling social-network censors to operate in real time would be put into operation.

Facebook did not deny that it is developing and testing the software. A spokesperson told eWEEK Nov. 23 that it hasn't yet made a decision on how it will attempt to go about renewing its business in China.

China Has Controlled Media for Generations

Since the institution of its communist government in the late 1940s, China has maintained a tight grip on public media. As part of this control policy, China blocked Facebook's entire free-conversation and news-gathering network in its geographic region in 2009, only a couple of years after Facebook became a mainstream online service.

Since then, several social networks, including Facebook-like Renren, Twitter clone Sina Weibo, Tencent and WeChat have come into being, with content continually monitored and edited by government sensors.

Some people believed Facebook would never come back to China after that blockade of service seven years ago. Since then, however, the company has gone public, and the allure of such a market (1.4 billion inhabitants, about 700 million internet users) would be hard for any public or private multinational corporation to dismiss.

Facebook's often-espoused mission of making the world more open and connected clashes directly with China's mission to cordon off its geographical portion of the internet and censor any information the communist government finds incompatible with its jurisdiction.

Facebook Willing to Compromise?

The report in the Times, however, suggests that Facebook may be willing to negotiate a way around censors by making concessions to the Chinese government so that it can again do business there.

Queried by eWEEK about this, a Facebook spokesperson said the company hasn't made any decisions about how to handle the still-in-force Chinese blockade of the network.

"We have long said that we are interested in China, and are spending time understanding and learning more about the country," the spokesperson said. "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."

The Times said the tool was created to help Facebook get into China, but that the company also called it an experiment that may never be used.

China is by far Facebook's biggest greenfield market, as it is for many U.S. companies.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger

Chris Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK, responsible in large part for the publication's coverage areas. In his 12 years and more than 3,900 stories at eWEEK, he has...