Chinese Government Fears Facebook

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With all the controversy over questionable marketing ploys and privacy policies, you might get the impression that Facebook is some kind of evil totalitarian conspiracy. But in the big picture sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are actually a force for good, serving as organizational tools and information channels for dissidents resisting real totalitarian conspiracies.

A few months ago I looked at the positive role Facebook plays in countries like Pakistan, where political dissidents and commentators consider it an important part of that country's halting progress towards an open society. We've also seen the role that Twitter played in uprisings in Iran and < a href="">Kyrgyzstan.

Now a Chinese government think tank has supplied more confirmation of the threat posed by social networking sites to authoritarian regimes. Last week the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences released a report, titled "Development of China's New Media," sounding the alarm over the subversive potential of online social media, which the authors warn is being used by Western governments (including the United States) to foment political unrest inside China.

It's hard to know how much truth there is in the allegation that outsiders are encouraging unrest through social media. On one hand, U.S. and other Western intelligence agencies have a long track record of covert meddling through any and all available channels -- the CASS report quotes U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who called new communication technologies a "huge strategic asset" -- and there are plenty of expatriate dissidents who have a means and motive to help out or do it independently. Indeed, the CASS report blamed recent outbreaks of violence in its western Xinjiang province on emigrant groups who used the Internet to issue calls for independence. On the other hand, it's not like authoritarian regimes need any help making themselves disliked, and accusing dissidents of cooperating with foreign enemies is a classic tactic for silencing protests.

But in the end it doesn't really matter whether there is an external element. Either way, the knee-jerk reaction of Chinese authorities will look pretty much the same: more domestic spying and intimidation. Thus the CASS report advises: "We must pay attention to the potential risks and threats to state security as the popularity of social networking sites continues to grow. We must immediately step up supervision of social networking sites." According to other news reports the Chinese military has already forbidden personnel from going to Internet cafes, using online dating sites, or maintaining blogs or personal Web sites. But policing the civilian online population (numbering about 400 million, or roughly a third of China's total population) is obviously a far more challenging task -- and ultimately maybe impossible.

2 comments about "Chinese Government Fears Facebook".
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  1. Paul Benjou from The Center for Media Management Strategies, July 13, 2010 at 4:37 p.m.

    Very simply ... the Chinese will launch a cyber attack on Facebook, Twitter, etc., will hack security and pull your data.

    Paul Benjou

    Ad Blog:

  2. Howie Goldfarb from Blue Star Strategic Marketing, July 13, 2010 at 5:21 p.m.

    Won't they feel silly when in 2-3 years Facebook is an also ran worldwide for Social Newtworks. Its going to happen. Nothing can stop it. But then they fear Google who isn't going to disappear as easily.

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