Facebook is confronting questions about how it will handle its role as a global public square for dissidents if it enters China and other countries with little tolerance for dissent. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal about its approach abroad, Facebook officials in Washington suggested the company might be willing to play by China’s rules—a stance that could raise hackles in Congress. Facebook is talking with potential Chinese partners about entering the huge China market, where the government has been cracking down on dissidents. That crackdown has come in response to the uprisings shaking authoritarian Middle Eastern regimes, movements that have used U.S.-based social-media sites like Facebook and Twitter as organizing tools.
“Maybe we will block content in some countries, but not others,” Adam Conner, a Facebook lobbyist, told the Journal. “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,” he said. “Right now we’re studying and learning about China but have made no decisions about if, or how, we will approach it,” said Debbie Frost, Facebook’s director of international communications.
Facebook’s plans may not sit well with congressional leaders already incensed with the company for sidestepping congressional inquiries on its China plans. Last spring, Sen. Dick Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee’s panel on human rights, rebuked Facebook for refusing to appear at a Capitol Hill hearing on “global Internet freedom.” The company hasn’t joined the Global Network Initiative, a group that includes information-technology companies like Google and Microsoft and human-rights groups that have agreed to common principles of conduct in nations such as China, which restrict speech and expression.