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Business

Facebook builds censorship tool for China

The social media behemoth has reportedly developed a software tool that is able to suppress users’ posts in China - a possible first step toward convincing Beijing to allow Facebook to re-enter the Chinese market.

According to a report in the New York Times, Facebook developed software which suppresses posts from appearing in people's news feeds in specific geographies.

The tool was reportedly created with the support of Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, who met with China's propaganda chief Liu Yunshan in March to discuss a re-entry of Facebook in China where it has been banned since 2009.

The Times noted that Facebook had taken down posts in other countries around the world, including Pakistan, Russia and Turkey. But the tool now in development would prevent the posts from ever surfacing in the News Feed at all, the newspaper added. The report also said that Facebook was planning to outsource censorship duties to a third-party company.

Facebook spokeswoman Arielle Aryah wrote in an emailed statement to the news agency Reuters that Facebook's focus in China was on helping businesses and developers "expand to new markets outside China."

"We have long said that we are interested in China, and are spending time understanding and learning more about the country. However, we have not made any decision on our approach to China," she said.

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Muddy waters

Like many US technology companies, Facebook is seeking a way back in China, seeing the country's 1.3 billion residents as a source of enormous potential growth. China banned the website following the Urumqi riots in July 2009 under efforts to limit the flow of information about ethnic unrest.

Earlier this month, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company was building new tools to address fake news. "I want what we do to have a good impact on the world. I want people to have a diversity of information," he said.

However, the new censorship tool would allow censors to manipulate public opinion directly by essentially preventing users from posting articles that offended the state. According to the Times report, the software, therefore, caused a controversy within Facebook, with "several employees" quitting in protest after working on it.

But the newspaper also cautioned that the tool was one of several approaches Facebook had considered and that there was no indication that the software had been offered to the Chinese authorities yet.

uhe/jd (Reuters, New York Times)

 

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