Twitter CEO Dick Costolo is about to take his first trip to China, sparking speculation that the social media giant may be looking at how it might be able to relaunch the service in the country, where it’s been banned by the authorities since 2009.
With around 600 million people online in China, and with Twitter shareholders eager for new revenue opportunities, we can expect that the social media giant is constantly exploring ways to bring its micro-blogging service to one of the world’s biggest markets. However, the company insists that Costolo’s trip, his first to the Asian nation, is merely to “learn more about Chinese culture and the country’s thriving technology sector.”
According to Reuters, Costolo will stay in Shanghai and is not intending to visit Beijing. During his three-day trip, he’s scheduled to meet a number of Shanghai government officials, though “is not expected to ask Chinese authorities to lift the Twitter ban.” However, Twitter declined to say what he would be discussing with officials.
The CEO will also meet people connected with Shanghai’s Pilot Free Trade Zone – a specially designated area covering about 10 square miles launched last year as a testing ground for economic reforms – despite the fact that there appears to be no plan to relax strict government controls on Internet content within the zone, keeping it in line with the rest of the country.
Unless those running China suddenly do an about turn on matters of the Internet – yes, we know that’s highly unlikely – it’s hard to imagine Twitter relaunching there anytime soon, though it seems Costolo is nevertheless keen to see the situation up close in an effort to get a better handle on exactly how the Internet operates in Chinese society.
In a speech last year at the American Society of News Editors convention, the Twitter boss said he would “love to be able to run Twitter as Twitter in China,” but added that “we are not going to sacrifice the principles of the platform and the way we think users should be able to communicate in order to do so.”
China’s big social media success story, Sina Weibo, has almost 130 million monthly users, but the service is heavily censored. The country’s government is well known for blocking or limiting access to sites like Google, Facebook, and YouTube, as well as broadcasts from the likes of the BBC, and last year the authorities made it clear that Web users in the country could be jailed for up to three years if they post comments online deemed to be inflammatory.