Saturday, March 3, 2018

Facebook sells out to China, and what it means for critics abroad

The New York Times published an article this week titled China is trying to police what people are saying about it around the world. I've written about China and its paranoid information-control efforts for years, but the activities to tamp down voices of dissent abroad are extreme. What I'd like to point out here are the reasons why Facebook and others are actually following China's Orwellian wishes. Take this example from the article: 
Facebook suspended Mr. Guo’s account. In a statement, the company said the account published the personal information of others without their consent, which violated the platform’s policies.
This is not just a case of China citing "hurt feelings" or some supposed rule-breaking on Facebook.
Zuckerberg is desperate to be in China. He's learned Mandarin, plays up his family connections (via his wife's family), and puts on the charm when visiting China. He's created relationships with officials at every level. His representatives have talked with companies which may be partners or acquired at some point.

Mark Zuckerbook in China
Mark Zuckerberg speaking in Mandarin during a 2015 visit
So it does not surprise me one bit that Facebook will bend over backwards to accommodate officials on censorship demands. This is the cost of doing business in China for a tech company. Media companies learned this decades ago -- read up on how Rupert Murdoch tried to operate in China. It's quite fascinating, worthy of a soap opera-style biopic.

Now it's Silicon Valley's turn, especially companies that specialize in communication -- social networks, mobile phone manufacturers, companies that sell networking hardware or cloud services, etc. The Chinese government's survival depends on information control, and if they can't do it themselves, then they force local and foreign companies to do it for them.

Don't think that this issue will be limited to human rights activists. It doesn't matter who you are -- your social media comments, family relationships, WeChat and Facebook messages, work connections on LinkedIn, and other digital footprints that reflect your attitude or influence will be used to build a social media score that determines your level of access to the country and ability to do business in China.

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