Kaiser Kuo and Pacific Epoch have both picked up a report in Chinese on China-cbn.com citing an "industry insider" who says Facebook could enter China as early as December. (UPDATE Oct.31: Reuters reports: Facebook to speak Chinese with .cn domain name) It's likely that the Chinese Facebook will be censored the same way all other Web2.0 services are censored in China.
See a recent blog post I wrote describing how domestically hosted user-generated content and social networking services are censored in China - and how the role of censor is shouldered increasingly by the businesses themselves. Also be sure to read a recent Reporters Without Borders report titled "Journey to the Heart of Internet censorship" which seems pretty accurate based on what I know. Of course these web companies have no choice if they want to keep their licenses.
Cherry Zhang at Pacific Epoch writes: "According to the insider, Facebook originally planned to simply translate its existing site into other languages, but now plans to build a separate website in China." Kaiser brings us more detail:
The paper claims that Facebook has given up its initial plan to set up its own China-based site like MySpace has done with MySpace.cn, but will instead acquire an existing SNS in China. Who do you suppose that could be? I can think of a couple of likely acquisition targets…
Whatever they do i hope they seamlessly their link Chinese version to their English version. Click …and swithc language. Those who are perfectly bilingual ( which i am NOT) should be able to communicate with their Chinese friends in Chinese and with their non-chinese friends in english … without changing platforms. Otherwise 2 monoligual silos will be created. That would be - from a mutual understanding point of view- a missed opportunity.
"Seamless" will be pretty hard if they're going to have to censor their Chinese-language site in ways that users of the international English-language Facebook would not tolerate. I guess that's why it's rumored they're likely to aquire an existing Chinese SNS with all the "user content management" mechanisms in place: perhaps it's a way to keep their hands at least technically a little cleaner and have greater justifications for not having seamless interoperability between the domestic and international versions?
Really too bad. If they do end up having to create different Facebook "silos" in order to be compliant with Chinese government censorship requirements (and maybe other governments with other language services too), it isn't just a missed opportunity to provide a great global, multilingual service that many people would find incredibly exciting.
The silo-ing of social networking sites like Facebook (and MySpace China already) is a sadly missed opportunity to build bridges of communication and understanding between the Chinese-speaking world and the English-speaking world. God knows we desperately need better communication and understanding between native Chinese speakers and native English speakers these days.
The Internet presented such early promise of helping people communicate across borders and cultures and political systems. Language barriers are already a huge obstacle and have grown greater as the non-English parts of the Internet have grown rapidly in the past few years. Now political borders are going up in cyberspace as well.
Is this inevitable? Isn't this situation also serving to "ghettoize" Chinese internet users instead of giving them a multilingual on-ramp to a global human network? If I was a Chinese internet user I'd feel like my government is holding me back by controlling the web in China so much that Facebook can't open its doors for me to a global multilingual and multicultural network - a network that would be best not only for my social life but also for my career and business.
I sympathize on one hand with the argument that there's no other way to do business in China than to comply with a whole pile of requirements to control user-generated content. But still. The Internet is balkanizing. China is just the beginning. This ghettoization and balkanization may be in the short term interest of governments and businesses, but it's definitely not in the long-term interest of human beings. Is there anything we can do about it?