For years, China’s communist regime’s captive market of 700-plus million internet users has been infuriatingly off-limits to Mark Zuckerberg’s social media giant. That might change, though, though, if Facebook is ready to do as approved Chinese sites do: obey the Party and go with its censorship directives.
On Nov. 22, the New York Times reported what it heard from unnamed insiders: that Facebook is developing a tool to track certain posts and topics, then hide them from a user’s feed depending on his or her geographic location. The team was reportedly led by vice president Vaughn Smith.
Facebook chairman Zuckerberg hasn’t been shy in proclaiming his affinity for China—he has a Chinese wife, has jogged in Beijing’s notoriously-smoggy weather, placed a copy of the Chinese leader’s book on his desk to be seen by reporters, and is learning Mandarin. But so far, only the man, not his website, are allowed in.
According to the insiders, control of the software can be handed over third-party users for them to pick and choose what they want to block. Facebook already cooperates with countries like Iran and Russia to block undesirable posts, but the tool currently being developed is different. It allows posts to be shut out before they are even published.
If Facebook is granted approval to operate in China, it will likely be required to work with a local partner company to make sure politically sensitive topics such as human rights violations or the Communist Party’s grizzly history are muted.
Zuckerberg has previously acknowledged the ethical issues inherent to cooperating with censorship, but stated that “it’s better for Facebook to be a part of enabling conversation, even if it’s not yet the full conversation.”
Featured image: Chinese President Xi Jinping talks with Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg (R) accompanied by Lu Wei, China’s internet czar (not pictured), during a gathering of CEOs and other executives on September 23, 2015 in Redmond, Washington. Credit: Ted S. Warren-Pool/Getty Images