Facebook is trying to set up an office in Shanghai, China, according to The New York Times, signaling the company’s aim to return to a massive market it was kicked out of years ago.
While the tech giant’s plans are in the very preliminary stages, Facebook’s intent is not surprising as it seems to naturally want a stake in the country with the largest population.
The initiative comes with moral dilemmas for Facebook. CEO Mark Zuckerberg previously said internet access is a basic human right while appearing to do everything possible to appease China — a country with a very poor record of internet freedom. Yet Facebook considered developing a censorship tool to prevent Chinese citizens from accessing content the Chinese leadership deems unacceptable. The tool is part of an internal experiment, but it is an indication of how far Facebook might be willing to go to regain access to the Chinese market.
“Instead of progressively coming out and saying we’d rather be banned than accept censorship demands, their position is to proactively help the Chinese government censor its citizens,” Justin Danhof, general counsel of the National Center for Public Policy Research and director of the Free Enterprise Project, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Nevertheless, Zuckerberg has defended or dismissed allegations of censorship both domestically and abroad, even though China has praised Facebook and other tech companies for their willingness to engage in censorship at home. (RELATED: China Loves America’s Push To Censor Facebook)
Furthermore, Zuckerberg has repeatedly gone out of his way to please the Chinese. He has learned Mandarin, jogged through the smog-filled streets of Beijing, joined a high-profile board for a top Chinese university, held important meetings with Chinese officials, and even asked the president of China to give his child a Chinese name. But his company has had very little success penetrating the country. Facebook recently attempted to introduce an app into the Chinese market, but it has been poorly received by local customers.
“It’s better for Facebook to be a part of enabling conversation, even if it’s not yet the full conversation,” Zuckerberg said once about his interest in China. While the company may genuinely be determined to positively impact China, another more likely motivation could be the potential market access and advertisement revenue.
That potential profit is likely contributing to Facebook’s tentative search for an office in the country.
“We have long said that we are interested in China,” a Facebook representative told TheDCNF, “and are spending time understanding and learning more about the country in different ways.”
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