Doing Business the Chinese Way: Facebook Develops A Censorship Tool

Doing Business the Chinese Way: Facebook Develops A Censorship Tool

Xiang Wang, CONTRIBUTOR An editorial intern with Forbes Asia.  NOV 24, 2016 @ 07:45 AM

After seven years being banned in China, Facebook learned its lesson—Do business the Chinese way. According to the New York Times, Facebook has developed a censorship tool to restrict contents from appearing in feeds, hoping to re-enter the Chinese market, where many other tech companies including Google and Twitter failed in the past.

It is likely Facebook would provide a third party with this censorship tool for monitoring posts, instead of censoring feeds itself. The company may partner with a Chinese firm, utilizing local expertise and connections in negotiating with Beijing. A Facebook spokeswoman said the company had not made decisions on its China re-entry plan.

Now, let’s rewind and shift to Facebook’s fake news controversy back home in the U.S. Last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg outlined the company’s plan on fighting fake news. In his post Zuckerberg mentioned Facebook’s commitment to “getting this right” and not being “arbiters of the truth,” where the company does not want to discourage users to share opinions or mistakenly restrict accurate content.

So can Facebook’s solution on developing a censorship tool for China apply to the fake news problem in the U.S. as well? China expert Jeremy Goldkorn discussed the blurred line between fake news and censorship in China and the different Internet environments of the two countries with FORBES ASIA.

The Chinese way vs. the American way

Whether it is how business is done in China, or how it handles the growing Internet concerns, the country has it own characteristics—the Chinese way. Jeremy Goldkorn, the founder of Danwei, a China research and media-monitoring company, explained two major ways China handles fake news.

One method is keyword filters. By setting up keyword filters, the company could go through posts and servers to identify misinformation. Another one is the human monitor. Different from a machine filter, the company hires people to read information online to catch the “fish escaped from the net” and make decisions on whether to keep or delete the content.

Goldkorn argues that the Chinese way of handling fake news is no difference than handling censorship. “I don’t think you can split fake news and censorship apart in China. The function of these two methods could be used in both ways,”  Goldkorn told FORBES ASIA.

Zuckerberg’s outline to battle fake news includes stronger detection, easy reporting, third party verification and more. The company has reached out to fact-checking organizations and is exploring ways to label stories that are flagged by third parties as false.

Goldkorn said the setup of media and the Internet environment in the U.S. and China is fundamentally different. “I don’t think you can compare the U.S. fake news problem to China’s. It requires something new to happen to tackle this problem here. It is difficult to know how this issue is going to be implemented without calling for censorship.”

How Tencent handles fake news

While Facebook is busy laying out plans to fight fake news on its platform, Tencent, China’s largest and most-used Internet service, is not a newcomer but an expert in tackling illicit information. CEO Ma Huateng called for sharing more social responsibilities as an “adult” company after Tencent turned 18 this month. Its instant messaging tools such as QQ and Wechat, which have news-sharing functions, have reached 1.73 billion users combined, close to Facebook’s 1.79 billion users as of September.

“Besides building better products and running the company, social livelihood and cyber security issues are no longer outside Tencent’s business,” said Ma Huateng at the Third World Internet Conference in Wuzhen, China last week.

Tencent has established various channels through websites or hotlines on handling misinformation. According to Ma, the company has disposed of 17 million cases so far this year. The company established an official account on Wechat called “rumor filter” working with several major Chinese media and professional organizations on helping users to better identify fake news with a focus on social, health and scienc- related topics. Tencent also assembled a security management team dedicated to Internet fraud.


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