Facebook, Inc. (FB) has over 1.23 billion monthly active users worldwide, but what it doesn’t have is any users, active or otherwise, in China! That’s because Facebook is banned in China. The Chinese government controls Internet content and restricts, deletes, or bans content it deems is not in the interest of the state. According to a government transcript released in the fall of 2014, Lu Wei, director of China’s State Internet Information Office, said that “foreign Internet companies entering China must at the base level accord to Chinese laws and regulations. First, you can’t damage the national interests of the country. Second is you cannot hurt the benefits of Chinese consumers. If China’s laws and regulations are respected, we welcome all of the world’s Internet companies to enter the Chinese market.” These tight controls imposed have resulted in the ban of foreign social media sites, like Facebook. How did this come about?
Rioting and the Government
The 2009 riots in Xinjiang, a western Chinese province, sparked the banning of Facebook. It is believed the government restricted access because Beijing the social network for the perpetuation of the riots. Access has been restricted ever since.
Wei’s comments support the notion that the Chinese government wants to control content, whether user- or company-generated, on the Internet. So while it can control, restrict, and delete content created in China, it is unable to control the content of servers located outside of China. As a result, the only action is to ban access.
Other Banned Comrades
While Facebook may be the largest in terms of monthly active users, it is not the only non-Chinese Internet company that has felt the wrath of the government. Twitter Inc. (TWTR) has likewise been banned since 2009. Media giants The websites of the New York Times (NYT) and Bloomberg News are currently blocked. The Chinese services of the Wall Street Journal and Reuters held a similar fate, but those blockades were removed after only a month.
The Bottom Line
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, has been visible in China, making several visits and even delivering a speech in Mandarin, but a compromise has yet to be announced. However, early reports in 2013 from the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post said that a new free-trade zone, the China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone, would have unrestricted access to these banned entities. The official Xinhua News Agency, however, stated that the bans would not be lifted, and the restrictions have remained in place since the opening and this year's expansion. For now, it appears Facebook will have to sit on the sidelines.