In its latest attempt to launch in China, Facebook has quietly built a censorship tool that could hide posts about prohibited topics from people in specific geographic areas, the New York Times reported.
Instead of censoring posts itself, the tool will allow any third-party such as a local partner company in China to prevent users in the country from seeing content that breaks the government rules. The third party can monitor popular stories and topics across the social network, then has full control to decide whether these posts should show up in users’ feeds.
Three current and former Facebook employees confirmed the news to NYT, adding that the feature was created to help Facebook get into China, and that Mark Zuckerberg has supported and defended the effort.
The software is so far one of many ideas that company has discussed in an attempt to gain access to a market of 1.4 billion Chinese people. The code is visible to engineers inside the company, and has so far not been used, with no indication that Facebook has offered it to the authorities in China.
China’s Great Firewall has currently blocked several major social websites in the country, which includes Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, Wikipedia, HotMail and MSN International. As for Facebook, it was blocked by China in 2009 during the Ürümqi riots, when XinJiang independence activists used Facebook as part of their communications network.
While China could bring huge amounts of users and ad revenue for Facebook, the censorship tool may violate human rights to a certain extent, as it can be used to track users of certain political views.
“We have long said that we are interested in China, and are spending time understanding and learning more about the country,” a Facebook spokesperson said via email. “However, 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.”