Today Facebook is ready to censor news from user profiles in China.
Tomorrow Facebook may begin censoring news from user profiles in the United States…maybe Facebook does this sooner rather than later, given the recent hysteria over the “fake news” fallacy.
Perhaps launching a censorship news feed tool is a sign of things to come for all Facebook users, globally. Time will tell, but we hope that China is a simple exception, rather than becoming the rule.
Unveiling a new censorship tool in China could lead to more demands to suppress content from other countries. The fake-news problem, which has hit countries across the globe, has already led some governments to use the issue as an excuse to target sites of political rivals, or shut down social media sites altogether.
Over the summer, several Facebook employees who were working on the suppression tool left the company, the current and former employees said. Internally, so many employees asked about the project and its ambitions on an internal forum that, in July, it became a topic at one of Facebook’s weekly Friday afternoon question-and-answer sessions.
Mr. Zuckerberg was at the event and answered a question from the audience about the tool. He told the gathering that Facebook’s China plans were nascent. But he also struck a pragmatic tone about the future, according to employees who attended the session.
“It’s better for Facebook to be a part of enabling conversation, even if it’s not yet the full conversation,” Mr. Zuckerberg said, according to employees.
Facebook has been keen to enter the Chinese market aggressively, and for good reason. China could be a massive boom to Facebook’s reach, and consequentially Facebook’s power over global communication and sentiment.
China’s massive population and huge market opportunity is more than enough motivation for Facebook to adjust its news feed algorithm and play by China’s strict media rules. NYT explains…
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, has cultivated relationships with China’s leaders, including President Xi Jinping. He has paid multiple visits to the country to meet its top internet executives. He has made an effort to learn Mandarin.
Inside Facebook, the work to enter China runs far deeper.
The social network has quietly developed software to suppress posts from appearing in people’s news feeds in specific geographic areas, according to three current and former Facebook employees, who asked for anonymity because the tool is confidential. The feature was created to help Facebook get into China, a market where the social network has been blocked, these people said. Mr. Zuckerberg has supported and defended the effort, the people added.
Facebook has restricted content in other countries before, such as Pakistan, Russia and Turkey, in keeping with the typical practice of American internet companies that generally comply with government requests to block certain content after it is posted. Facebook blocked roughly 55,000 pieces of content in about 20 countries between July 2015 and December 2015, for example. But the new feature takes that a step further by preventing content from appearing in feeds in China in the first place.
Facebook does not intend to suppress the posts itself. Instead, it would offer the software to enable a third party — in this case, most likely a partner Chinese company — to monitor popular stories and topics that bubble up as users share them across the social network, the people said. Facebook’s partner would then have full control to decide whether those posts should show up in users’ feeds.