Beijing, China (TFC) – Over the weekend; Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met with high level officials of the Chinese Communist Party in an attempt to create a friendly atmosphere for the social media giant. Zuckerberg’s visit to China including meeting with the head of the government’s propaganda department yet both parties declined to discuss if the country could potentially lift it’s ban of the site.
The Communist Party of China (CPC) has recently been increasing it’s censorship on the limited version of internet access allowed to it’s citizens. Just last week two major Chinese journalists resigned from their posts citing the new censorship laws as the reason and posting their explanations on the state controlled social media platform Weibo.
China has one of the largest potential markets of internet users – estimated around 700 million – that has yet to be tapped into by Facebook. China is one of the few countries who remain on the short list of nations that don’t allow their citizens access to Facebook – only joined by Iran, North Korea and Vietnam.
Facebook has done some good in nations with oppressive regimes and has even been credited as a major set-piece in several nations that underwent regime change in the Arab Spring. Despite this; the meeting in Beijing is raising some concerns due to a few key factors. Facebook circa 2011 is still vastly different from the Facebook media empire we see spreading worldwide and reaching out into more sectors beyond just a social platform. Facebook in 2016 isn’t just the largest social media platform but is also now in the market to develop things like consumer virtual reality products and funding research into artificial intelligence – the company truly has become one of the largest global business conglomerates on the stage today.
Another concerning factor is that the CPC and it’s tightly controlled media is touting this meeting as a potential step forward. The major state run outlet; Xinhua reported on the meeting between Zuckerberg and propaganda minister Liu Yunshan stating that the minister had “expressed hope that Facebook, which has advanced technology and governance mode, should work with Chinese internet enterprises to enhance exchanges and share experience so as to make outcome of the internet development better benefit the people of all countries.” The agency reported that Zuckerberg was “looking forward” to working with his Chinese peers.
Whether China will allow access to Facebook anytime in the near future remains to be seen but it should be kept in mind that Facebook is no stranger in cooperating with almost all governments who allow their services. Recently; Facebook has been in cooperation with governments from Germany to Russia in removing content the state deems inappropriate. Since 2014; Facebook has been fielding requests by the military government in Thailand for removal of anti-government posts. Pakistan and India were also some of the most heavily censored nations on Facebook until recently with the even more egregious actions by the Turkish state in removing anti-Islamic and anti-government posts in order to avoid shut downs.
If Facebook hasn’t had any hesitation on cooperation with these states in protecting their interests can they truly be trusted to cooperate with the largest market of internet users worldwide that has so far remained untapped?
James Carey is an organizer based in Detroit, Michigan, founder of Geopolitics Alert, and an experienced analyst on Middle Eastern affairs with a particular focus on Turkey. He also covers topics ranging from Latin America and Asia to Europe. You can also hear James in his weekly podcast; The Left is Dead which he co-hosts with investigative journalist Jake Anderson.