Mark Zuckerberg delivered a 40-minute speech on Thursday (17) at Georgetown University on freedom of expression: the Facebook co-founder said China is building its own internet with very different values from the US, and criticized the imposed censorship by the government and followed by local apps. The social network does not operate in the country, as well as Instagram and WhatsApp.
Zuckerberg implies that he is concerned about the future of the global internet because of China, which is exporting its practices on the network to other countries. “Until recently, the internet in almost every country outside of China was defined by American platforms with strong values of free expression”, says the executive. “There is no guarantee that these values will expire.”
The Facebook CEO notes that a decade ago, almost all of the major internet platforms were from the United States. Today, six of the top ten come from China; this includes Tencent, Alibaba and Baidu, for example.
“While our services, like WhatsApp, are used by protesters and activists everywhere due to strong encryption and privacy protections, in TikTok, the rapidly growing Chinese app worldwide, mention of these protests is censored, even in the USA, ”says Zuckerberg. “Is this the internet we want?”
Last week, the newspaper The Guardian obtained the TikTok content moderation guidelines. The document forbids criticism of the Chinese government and “demonization or distortion of local or other countries’ history,” such as the Tiananmen Square Massacre.
ByteDance, owner of the app, claims that these guidelines are old and that moderation decisions for users outside of China are made by a team based in the U.S. “The Chinese government does not request that TikTok censor content and would have no jurisdiction to do so, as TikTok does not operate there,” says the company.
There is an important detail in this story: TikTok is not really available in China, but it has an identical equivalent called Douyin. It has the same interface and even the same logo, but operates on different servers to meet Chinese government censorship.
Facebook has “more freedom to speak” against China
Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp are blocked in China. Zuckerberg even tried to operate these services in the country, because he believed “in connecting the whole world”, and because he thought it would be possible “to help create a more open society”.
However, he was unable to reach an agreement with the local government. “Now we have more freedom to speak, to defend the values we believe in, and to fight for freedom of expression around the world”, says the executive.
It was not always so, as noted by Mashable. One of Zuckerberg’s new year challenges was learning Mandarin as a way to get closer to the Chinese. According to the New York Times, Facebook was preparing in 2016 a “censorship tool” designed for China.
But last year, the executive made it clear that he changed his mind, and said that splitting Facebook into multiple companies could make Chinese competitors even more powerful.