Facebook has developed a censorship tool that could allow the social media site back into China after a seven-year ban, according to reports.
According to The New York Times, the software suppresses posts in specific geographies from appearing in users’ news feeds. The company will offer the software to a third party, which will then monitor popular stories and topics, and will have full control over whether they show up in users’ news feeds.
Facebook employees, who wished to remain anonymous, stressed that the software is one of many solutions the company has considered to get back into China, and it may not see the light of day, according to the report.
Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg has also met with top internet executives in the country, including China’s propaganda tsar Liu Yunshan, in an effort to strengthen exchanges and mutual understanding with internet companies there.
“We have long said that we are interested in China, and are spending time understanding and learning more about the country,” Facebook spokeswoman Arielle Aryah said in reports. “However, we have not made any decision on our approach to China.”
China banned the social media giant in July 2009 in an effort to restrict the flow of information about ethnic unrest following the Urumqi riots that left 140 people dead. Despite this, there are a number of users in the country who are said to circumvent the country’s firewall through the use of virtual private networks (VPNs) such as Astrill.
Reports circulated three years after the ban that there were over 60 million Facebook users in China who still used the social media site through the use of proxies and VPNs; however, Facebook’s own statistics had the figure at around 600,000 registered users in China.
Last year, China revamped its internet filter to make it more difficult for users to work around the ban. A senior official at the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology at the time said the move was designed to foster the “healthy development” of the internet in China.
Social media in China is largely dominated by Baidu, Tencent’s WeChat, and Sina Weibo, the latter of which has around 100 million daily users.
Google’s Gmail service was also blocked in China in December 2014 as part of efforts to further regain control over its citizens’ access to content.
Earlier this week, Zuckerberg detailed Facebook’s plan to prevent fake news from circulating the site, including stronger detection to classify misinformation, easier reporting for users to catch misinformation faster, third-party fact checking, flagging more stories, disrupting the fake news economy, and improving the quality of related articles.
“The bottom line is: We take misinformation seriously,” Facebook’s chief explained. “Our goal is to connect people with the stories they find most meaningful, and we know people want accurate information. We’ve been working on this problem for a long time and we take this responsibility seriously. We’ve made significant progress, but there is more work to be done.”
In China, spreading fake news on social media platforms such as Weibo and WeChat can result in criminal punishment of between three to seven years of jail time, as stipulated by an amendment made to Chinese law in November last year.