Facebook’s wants to connect the world, even more of it than the 1.79 billion people—or more than half the global population—it’s already reaching every month.
But there’s an entire nation unable to share or react to posts: China, which has blocked Facebook, its associated sites, and its apps.
But on Tuesday, a New York Times report revealed that Facebook’s been working on ways to move past that that ban—one of which involves censoring news: A tool that would prevent posts from showing up in a particular geographic region, which according to current and former Facebook employees (who spoke on condition of anonymity to the Times) the company already has.
This tool, according to the Times sources, isn’t currently in use, and might never get used. But as the Times illustrates, it’s fairly important to know if Facebook is willing to censor users’ content, as the Chinese government demands. The Times sources also say that Zuckerberg supported and defended the tool.
When asked about the censorship tool for China, Facebook demurred. “We have long said that we are interested in China, and are spending time understanding and learning more about the country,” the company said, in a statement (part of which appeared in the Times story). “However,” the statement continued, “we have not made any decision on our approach to China. Our focus right now is on helping Chinese businesses and developers expand to new markets outside China by using our ad platform.”
What it did do was echo—almost verbatim—what Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said at the annual shareholders meeting in June: “We’re learning. We’re studying about the Chinese market, and we’ll see what happens,” she said.
Chinese government officials have repeated their calls for even more internet regulations as recently as last week (in light of the spread of fake news on social media, and its influence on the U.S. electoral results). To that end, direct government cooperation is the way that Weibo, China’s largest social network, is able to operate in the country, according to a report earlier this year from the Committee to Protect Journalists.
For now, Facebook’s business does have a presence given that the company still sells advertising to Chinese companies. Twitter, which is also banned in the country, also operates a similar business.
Meanwhile, Facebook is still failing to address the spread of fake news on its network where it is currently live: America’s.