The rumors about Facebook somehow breaking through China’s infamous firewall have ramped up lately. It was reported that the social networking site had signed a deal with Baidu to launch some sort of joint social project, and the popular Chinese search engine is apparently desperate to make a successful go at this platform. Inevitably though, the concern about the Chinese government interfering with the site were raised.
And now a recent report from the Wall Street Journal indicates that Facebook may be warming to the idea of censorship. Adam Conner, a lobbyist for the company, explains that “Maybe we will block content in some countries, but not others. We are occasionally held in uncomfortable positions because now we’re allowing too much, maybe, free speech in countries that haven’t experienced it before.”
That statement was followed up by Facebook director of international communications, Debbie Frost, saying “Right now we’re studying and learning about China but have made no decision about if, or how, we will approach it.”
For starters, we’re hoping that Conner misspoke when he said that Facebook is in “uncomfortable positions” because it’s become a platform of free speech in traditionally restrictive countries. Just look at Egypt, where many protesters credited the social networking offered by Facebook for helping launch the protests that ousted President Mubarak.
It seems like he is saying that the Facebook revolutions have made the company uneasy with the role it has played in the ongoing demonstrations. It’s true that the social network has been an incredible source of communication, activism, and organization for demonstrators in countries like Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and what could easily become countless others.
And it’s this very position as social platform for liberation that would make Facebook look extremely hypocritical were it to censor itself in exchange for access to China’s Internet users. Frost also told the WSJ that while technology assisted the wave of protests, “bravery and determination mattered most,” which sounds a little like an attempt to disassociate Facebook from the events. Which makes sense: If Facebook has ambitions in China (which it most certainly does), being known as a tool for uprisings against heavy-handed government isn’t going to do it any favors.