Sunday, April 24, 2011

Facebook’s free-speech problem

Washington Post
April 23, 2011

Last week, Adam Conner, a lobbyist for Facebook in Washington, had some chilling words for the Wall Street Journal about the company’s plans. “Maybe we will block content in some countries, but not others,” Mr. Conner said. “We are occasionally held in uncomfortable positions because now we’re allowing too much, maybe, free speech in countries that haven’t experienced it before.”

Such a remark — even when it comes from a 25- year-old lobbyist — is deeply disturbing and seems to reflect an alarmingly cavalier attitude toward Internet censorship.

Since Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s visit to China in December, rumors about an expansion of Facebook into China — perhaps in partnership with a local company — have been rampant. Mr. Zuckerberg has said that he can’t imagine accomplishing his mission of connecting the world without incorporating China. But on whose terms?

Facebook is currently banned in China. On his arrival there in December, some joked that Mr. Zuckerberg would be welcomed as the founder of “404 not found,” the result of searches for the site for those who live behind China’s Great Firewall. If Facebook expands there, China can be expected to require Facebook to share data with authorities and submit to China’s elaborate apparatus of online content censorship. Is it worth the cost?