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The Diplomat: Facebook’s Plan to Enter China 'Doomed to Fail'

In an article echoing similar sentiments from other publications, Asian publication the Diplomat has published an opinion piece which claims that “Facebook’s Plan to Enter China Is Doomed to Fail.”

An article by Chuzi Xiao published in the Diplomat argues that Facebook’s attempts to enter China are doomed to faile for a number of reasons, “It’s not just a question of censorship;” the article states, “many Chinese government policies would work against Facebook.”

The article begins by outlining some of Facebook’s previous attempts to gain a foothold in the Chinese market, noting that Facebook has been blocked in mainland China for nearly ten years and that the company withdrew a pending subsidiary in the province of Zhejiang in July.

In July, Facebook quickly withdrew its pending subsidiary in the province of Zhejiang, China. The social media giant, along with Google, Twitter, and Instagram (which is also owned by Facebook), is eager to reach China’s potential audience of 731 million internet users, but it has been blocked in the mainland for almost 10 years. The subsidiary aimed to establish a new innovation hub as well as finally dip a toe in the Chinese market, but Facebook’s plan to enter China is doomed to fail.

Xiao notes that one of the main reasons Facebook will find it hard to solidify their userbase in China is the existence of social media alternatives in the country that are already approved by the Chinese government and comply with Chinese Internet law, such as the extremely popular social media service WeChat.

First of all, Facebook can be easily substituted in China. Chinese apps, including social media services like WeChat, are much more popular and useful in China. For many Chinese, WeChat is not only a communication platform but also a digital wallet. The app is akin to a blend of messaging, social media, and mobile payment, and ordinary people find it impossible to imagine life without it. WeChat’s innovations — particularly its app-within-an-app model — make other apps like Facebook seem rather basic in comparison.

However, one thing that has been largely denounced about WeChat is self-censorship. All apps and online services in China are required to only provide censored and politically benign information. However, Chinese users seem quite indifferent about that feature. The censorship in China fosters an environment where citizens do not demand open information in the first place. In an ill-informed country like China, Facebook does not have a comparative advantage for its openness.

The article further notes that Facebook may be designing censorship tools for a Chinese version of its platform, as Google has, but that the Chinese government may not be ready to hand over control, censorship, and surveillance to the Masters of the Universe in Silicon Valley.

Former employees of Facebook revealed that the company secretly developed a censorship tool, in hopes of winning support from China’s internet watchdogs. Facebook had worked on blocking sensitive content for countries such as Russia, Pakistan, and Turkey before, but this new development would even prevent certain content from appearing in feeds. This invention sounds very appealing to Chinese officials. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the company’s very presence in China would pose an incisive political question — how much internet control and surveillance is the Chinese government willing to reduce? The answer is none.

Read the full article on The Diplomat here.

Lucas Nolan

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