China: Facebook blocked? Not quite!

Just as pictures from Hong Kong's annual march for democracy began appearing on Facebook, a segment of the users of the social networking site in mainland China began blogging their troubles accessing the site altogether, seemingly fulfilling predictions made when news that a localized Chinese version of Facebook was in the works first surfaced last year. Zh-cn.facebook.com went live exactly two weeks before people began documenting access issues:

As these things go, experiences appeared to conflict with each other, leaving many left to conclude that Facebook itself was screwing them around.

Except for the new redirect to zh-cn.facebook.com, the situation at present appears to be mostly as it was, wherein tech-unsavvy Facebook users are left unable to access certain parts of Facebook containing so-called sensitive keywords. Ad hoc tests carried out by five friends of Global Voices Advocacy based in different parts of mainland China today showed that some Facebook groups can still only be loaded partway before freezing in an apparent keyword filter. Of the following Facebook groups, the fifth in order was consistently difficult (including with tests I ran myself) to access and appeared to result in a temporarily reset connection to facebook.com:

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=16929680703
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=7765017060
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2257397452
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=5187862317
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2248992944
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=20894947280
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2222354198
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2561706410
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2229467649
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2213066526

If facebook.com really does end up getting blocked and users inside mainland China are forced instead to use zh-cn.facebook.com to set up groups like ‘Redress the Tiananmen Massacre’ or communicate with foreign media workers, will FB follow in the footsteps of its predecessors and filter or hand user-to-user messages over to Chinese police when asked? Or, with its robust user-created networks, will Facebook create an entirely new business model for penetration of the Chinese SNS market?

21 comments

  • lon

    Thanks John,

    It was all very confusing…Still is…

    It is still on and off for me in GZ. I cannot seem to access anything except the applications.I don’t know what the problem is….Still working on it…
    You raise some good points. With FB wanting to make a big move into China and all this this confusion happening I am at a loss, but anxious to see how it plays out…

  • […] are unaware what they’re missing out on.) This doesn’t mean, however, that the apparent blocking of parts of Facebook isn’t annoying for many users or the creeping Olympic […]

  • WTF

    God, this is why I hate living in China..

  • Theywillnotsucceed

    So you hate living in China, well that is exactly what they want. They dont want us to be here, they only want our knowledge in all industries and when they think they have enough information they will all get rid of us foreigners. Dont missunderstand me, I am talking about the goverment, not about the common people.
    So giving you partial access to certain internet sites is annoying and they know that, they are hoping to annoy us so long until we leave. Is it official? of course not and they will never admit this fact.
    Not much you can do about it….
    btw, didn’t have access to FB since Sunday July 20th 2008 in the evening ;)

  • […] Will Facebook succumb to the Chinese internet censor? […]

  • […] are unaware what they’re missing out on.) This doesn’t mean, however, that the apparent blocking of parts of Facebook isn’t annoying for many users or the creeping Olympic […]

  • MARTA

    THIS IS CRAZY HOW THIS CAN BE POSSIBLE. I LIVE IN BJ SINCE 4 MONTHS AND FB IS ONE OF THE ONLY LINK TO MY FAMILY FRIENDS … THIS REALLY SUCK

  • Pedro

    I lost contact with my friends and family just because they do not want me to know about the riot.

    Ha! That was the first thing I have found in the web when trying to reach Facebook!

    Congratulations you have achieved nothing and I will find another way to contact friend and family but they will not keep us blind.

  • Tae

    It’s not about keeping us foreigners ignorant about what’s going on in the world but the Chinese common people. If they even speak English well enough to get news of political focal point, they’d try to find stuff and share opinions with international community, they’d probably use facebook and twitter, right?
    Chinese government doesn’t try to fool us, cause they know pretty well that we have possibilities to keep updated, other than facebook. It’s about keeping their own people dumb and ignorant. And I think as unfortunate as it is, they’re pretty successful in doing that….

  • Angry Facebook User

    This is screwed up. How can we talk to our friends and family? Besides, zh cn doens’t even work for me >.> DOes it always work right now?”

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