Facebook might be one step closer to launching in China

Steven Loeb · March 21, 2016 · Short URL: https://vator.tv/n/4420

Zuckerberg met with a Chinese official over the weekend, will Facebook be unblocked?

Updated with comment from Facebook

Facebook may now be one step closer to its dream of accessing China's 720 million Internet users, though I wouldn't count on a full reconciliation between the two countries just yet.

Over the weekend, while attending an economic forum in Beijing, Mark Zuckerberg took some time out to meet with Liu Yunshan, China’s propaganda chief, it was reported by Xinhua News Agency, China's official press agency, over the weekend.

Liu expressed interest in working with Facebook to "enhance exchanges and share experience so as to make outcome of the internet development better benefit the people of all countries," it said in the report.

"Cyberspace is the common space of mankind, and it is the common responsibility for the international community to build a 'community of shared future' in cyberspace," Liu said in a statement. 

Obviously it's unknown what the two really talked about, but it's hard to not see this is as another development in the strange relationship between the two sides that has existed for a number of years. 

VatorNews reached out to Facebook for more information regarding the meeting, but the company would had no comment on what was discussed.

Facebook has been banned in China since 2008, but last year Zuckerberg said it was still one of the company's biggest ad markets due to Chinese businesses using it to sell products outside of their home country.

"It already is one of the biggest advertising markets that we have. Because there are a lot of really big and important Chinese companies who sell a lot of product to people outside of China. And they use Facebook as one of their primary tools and, in lot of cases, to spread information world about what they're doing and grow their customer base," he said.

So there's already a strong relationship between Facebook and the people it would make money from, and Chinese users have already embraced the service. Does that mean Facebook will be in China any time soon?

Probably not, as the process is going to be slow.  It was almost two years ago that reports came out that the company was looking to lease space in Beijing’s Fortune Financial Center, which is located in the city’s central business district, to gain a foothold in the country. This is the first major update on that front in all that time. 

Second, there's the issue of censorship, something that Facebook, and all the other social networks, have been grappling with in recent months after the shootings in San Bernardino. Twitter got sued for not doing enough, and has since gone and shut down a slew of ISIS propaganda accounts, while Facebook has been setting new guidelines for cracking down on hate speech.

Censorship, however, is a fine line and the company has been accused, in the past, of going too far with how it handles certain topics. China is even trickier due to the government's control over the Internet, and Facebook could be walking into a minefield. 

There are two things that will likely make China too hard for Facebook to resist, though. First, the country is seeing huge gains in Asia already, even without Chinese users. 

While Facebook is growing its user base at around 14 percent globally, it's adding users in Asia at an even faster rate, 20 percent. By the end of last year, there were 540 million Facebook users in Asia, more than a third of its 1.59 billion total users. That was up from 449 million at the end of 2014. 

Of those users, 130 million are in India, the company's second largest market. Another 37 million are in Thailand, Indonesia has 82 million, the Philippines has 24 million and there are 21 million Facebook users in Vietnam.

China also happens to have the largest number of Internet users on the planet.  It's not hard to envision a scenario in which China, and Asia, become its biggest market. That is a prospect that I can't imagine any company passing up. 

"We have long said that we are interested in China, and are spending time understanding and learning more about the this very complex country. We have not made any decisions on any approach," a Facebook spokesperson told me.

(Image source: news.xinhuanet.com)

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