In an interview with the Wall Street Journal about Facebook’s relationship with the powers-that-be in Washington, a company lobbyist announced that they may be willing to censor content in China and elsewhere if they enter the market there:
Facebook is talking with potential Chinese partners about entering the huge China market, where the government has been cracking down on dissidents. That crackdown has come in response to the uprisings shaking authoritarian Middle Eastern regimes, movements that have used U.S.-based social-media sites like Facebook and Twitter as organizing tools.
“Maybe we will block content in some countries, but not others,” Adam Conner, a Facebook lobbyist, told the Journal. “We are occasionally held in uncomfortable positions because now we’re allowing too much, maybe, free speech in countries that haven’t experienced it before,” he said.
“Right now we’re studying and learning about China but have made no decisions about if, or how, we will approach it,” said Debbie Frost, Facebook’s director of international communications.
Facebook’s plans may not sit well with congressional leaders already incensed with the company for sidestepping congressional inquiries on its China plans. Last spring, Sen. Dick Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee’s panel on human rights, rebuked Facebook for refusing to appear at a Capitol Hill hearing on “global Internet freedom.”
The company hasn’t joined the Global Network Initiative, a group that includes information-technology companies like Google and Microsoft and human-rights groups that have agreed to common principles of conduct in nations such as China, which restrict speech and expression.
Facebook is currently banned in China. Earlier this month, a reported deal on a joint social-networking Web site between Facebook and Chinese search engine company Baidu apparently fell through when the site was taken down by Chinese authorities.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s eagerness to gain access to China’s 420 million Internet users is such that he recently claimed he’s learning the language.
“It’s kind of a personal challenge this year, I’m taking about an hour a day and I’m learning Chinese,” Zuckerberg told an audience during a recent appearance at Stanford University. “I’m trying to understand the language, the culture, the mind set—it’s just such an important part of the world. How can you connect the whole world if you leave out a billion people?”
Zuckerberg visited China last year with his girlfriend, Priscilla Chan.