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Updated: 2017.3.30 00:38
 
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[ Issue 151 Page 13 ] Wednesday, March 29, 2017, 22:56:49 Hyunseung Hwang Staff Reporter aguno@kaist.ac.kr

With over 700 million internet users, the Chinese population is more connected than any other society in the world. China is an important market for companies like Facebook, which wants to add a huge chunk of users to its existing 1.8 billion monthly users. But to the authoritarian Chinese government, the access to boundless information poses a threat to its control over free expression. Facebook has been trying to conquer the Chinese market for years but has been banned in China since 2009 in an attempt by the government to stop the flow of information about ethnic unrest at the time. To counter people’s access to alternative viewpoints, Facebook is now secretly developing a censorship software that will allow the authorities to censor certain information on the website in exchange for allowing it to operate in China, according to the New York Times. The tool will be able to suppress certain posts from appearing in people’s newsfeeds in specific geographic regions. Is the social media giant giving in to China’s position on free internet or is it just about business? Facebook has censored content posted in other countries such as Pakistan, Russia, and Turkey before. They blocked around 55,000 pieces of content in about 20 countries last year. But the new tool will take a step further by not allowing content from appearing in the feed in the first place. According to Zennon Kapron, CEO of a consulting firm that analyses technology trends in China, such technology is very common in China: “anybody on a social media platform domestically knows that there is some censorship that happened and critical posts are removed very quickly or not even allowed at all.” Facebook is planning to provide a Chinese third party to have complete control over what posts show up in the feeds. Critics doubt whether Facebook can successfully compete with the already dominant internet services in China. A lot of the companies come to China thinking it is going to be a “blockbuster” for them, only to leave shortly afterwards with not achieving the objectives. Uber is one of them. In August, Uber decided to bail out from an expensive investment to crack the Chinese market by selling the Chinese business to a rival company, Didi Chuxing. Facebook will need to bring something new to the table to compete with WeChat, a social networking service popular in China. It already has more than 700 million monthly users, which is more than the number of people with internet access in China. WeChat also provides a much richer experience beyond social networking, such as providing a free video chatting system, a taxi calling service, a bill paying portal, and a shopping environment. Facebook is betting on the rapid evolution of technology and social media in China. It has only been two years since Sina Weibo was the largest and the most popular social media service. As a result of a government regulation, however, many users have left the website and WeChat took over. Facebook has not confirmed nor denied the rumor that Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executor of Facebook, has been publically meeting Chinese leaders in recent years. The company released a statement saying, “We have not made any decision on our approach to China. Our focus right now is on helping Chinese business and developers expand to new markets outside of China by using the ad platform.”

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