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China: Facebook blocked? Not quite!

Categories: China

Just as pictures [1] from Hong Kong's annual march for democracy [2] began appearing on Facebook, a segment of the users of the social networking site in mainland China began blogging their troubles [3] accessing the site altogether [4], seemingly fulfilling predictions [5] made when news that a localized [6] Chinese version [7] 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 [9] go, experiences appeared to conflict with each other [10], leaving many left to conclude that Facebook itself was screwing them around [11].

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 [12]) to access and appeared to result in a temporarily reset connection to facebook.com:

http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=16929680703 [13]
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=7765017060 [14]
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2257397452 [15]
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=5187862317 [16]
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2248992944 [17]
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=20894947280 [18]
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2222354198 [19]
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2561706410 [20]
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2229467649 [21]
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2213066526 [22]

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’ [17] 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?