Mark Zuckerberg is currently in Beijing in yet another push to build business opportunity for himself. But Mark Zuckerberg has never addressed the reasons Facebook and other social media platforms have been banned in China in the first place. He is building a celebrity status in the world’s most populous nation, while still avoiding any issues of substance.
Zuckerberg met with China’s Propaganda Chief. Yes, that really is a position in the Chinese government. It’s the person designated by the leadership to spread communist messages throughout the society. More recently, policies in China wish to enforce all foreign companies, especially media companies, to follow the same propaganda requirements as native Chinese companies, or risk their business’s foothold.
— Clicks and Clients (@clicksnclients) March 11, 2016
China has also put policies forward that would require foreign companies to hand over certain intellectual property data. This comes at a time when China’s economy is on the decline. An enforcement of such policies could further isolate foreign investment.
But Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg seems intent on impressing China’s leadership despite all that. It’s not really a matter of impressing China’s internet users. Many of them can still access Facebook behind the government’s back, by using a VPN service to bypass China’s strict internet regulators. But not everyone is tech savvy enough to do things like that. What Zuckerberg is trying to do is get on the good side of temperamental government officials, so he can do things lucratively.
But the ethical compromises in following China’s already strict online censorship policies might cripple Facebook into losing its appeal, if he does finally get the nod from the leadership. China’s homegrown social networks, like Weibo, have been rife with many instances of online activists, or just those who speak up on issues deemed “sensitive,” find their accounts removed, and even face legal consequences.
— Education Week (@educationweek) March 14, 2016
As the Guardian reported, China has also stated they will jail users of its popular instant messaging services if they spread “online rumors.” That would mean users share information that the government doesn’t want people to talk about or know about.
Mark Zuckerberg would have to ask himself if his hunger for access to China’s nearly 700 million internet users would have him make such compromises. Before him, companies like Google eventually got fed up with having to censor search results for Chinese users, to the point that they pulled out of China almost completely. And media companies like the New York Times and Bloomberg have been banned on and off in China when their reports anger government officials.
But it’s unclear if Zuckerberg is playing dumb, or just doesn’t care what has happened to other foreign companies. As Mail Online reported, he even ignored Beijing’s toxic air pollution by posting a picture of himself and some friends jogging in Tiananmen Square when pollution levels were 15 times the level deemed safe for physical activity. As Bloomberg reported, Chinese people speculated over what sort of message he tried to send. Is he trying to say that China doesn’t have issues? Or is he trying every means possible to let the government know he is pleased with things, no matter how ugly they are to the people who have to live with them?
In any case, Facebook is not accessible from China, and at a time when Chinese internet regulations are tightening even more, Zuckerberg thinks he can slip Facebook in past the smog. But it may not be worth it if Mark simply adds Facebook to this status quo. Internet censorship in China is about controlling the narrative that people receive through any channel. It’s about the ruling Communist Party doing the gatekeeping on information.
If Mark Zuckerberg was to submit Facebook to the same sort of regulations of China’s currently accessible social media, there would be no point in being there. Chinese internet users would simply have no reason to use Facebook as yet another internet service weakened by state monitoring.
[Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images]