Fake news, suppression software and mounting political pressure: Facebook’s growing list of concern shows no sign of resolve
In a recent piece by the New York Times, Facebook’s plans to unveil new suppression software may enable them to entire the Chinese market again. Almost immediately dubbed by the media as a censorship tool, the software has reportedly been in development for some time, while founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg maintains the networking platform’s China plans remain ‘nascent’ at best. Facebook launched its Chinese language site in 2008 and was shut down the following year in relation to information on the riots in Xinjiang. In compliance with the Great Firewall, the new software would allow a third party to monitor what information is posted on newsfeeds. Several employees working on the suppression software are said to have resigned last month.
While this is not the first time Facebook has allowed for news blockage (it currently blocks content in Turkey, Russia and Palestine) it is the most high profile in recent times, and is the latest strategy deployed in Zuckerberg’s courting strategy, which has included visits with Chinese President Xi Jinping and the study of Mandarin.
The mounting criticism both within the organisation and from advocates of free speech would prove troubling for many a company, though this has served as only one thorn on a very long branch causing pain in the corporation’s side. Still recovering from the barrage of condemnation of the fake news surrounding the US presidential elections last month, navigating the murky waters between independence and objectivity, and a legal obligation to remove has proven a challenging ordeal, and one without a clear solution for the technology company. Whether you call it censorship, monitoring, deletion or protection, the political weighting behind such an action makes the data generated by news outlets incredibly sensitive.
The most recent test to this was in Germany. German legislation prohibits the circulation of hate speech, and last week saw a map of Jewish and Israeli residents in Berlin circulated on Facebook, with respondent racist remarks and threats. Facebook was lauded denounced for their slow response in removing the content in violation of German law.
Zuckerberg and his team may not deem themselves arbiters of truth or data police, but clearly a coherent strategy for dealing with information dissemination. After all, Facebook doesn’t need to see themselves as a media company; news is undeniably their currency, and exchange rates are plummeting.