Chinese Government Shuts Down Facebook

Facebook Shanghai PosterFacebook is being blocked in China over the Urumqi clashes.

Rediya Kadeer, president of the World Uighur Congress, explained “social media is critical to the Uighurs’ cause” in an exclusive AllFacebook interview earlier this week. Facebook wall posts were used to spread news after Twitter shut down in Urumqi, China, AllFacebook reported Sunday.

China’s shutdown of Facebook is part of a larger social media trend where citizens are denied access to Facebook and Twitter as a means of enforcing state control over media. Google was also targeted in dramatic fashion on Chinese TV recently, when Google’s “autosuggest” search functionality was manipulated by Beijing to show how Google actually suggests that Chinese users search for porn online.

China is also watching Iran, where social media effectively provided live coverage of the election protests. An Internet exec commented to me that “it’s as exciting as the CNN coverage of the first Gulf War” to watch the protests unfold via Twitter.

Facebook Confirms China Problems:

Bloomberg covered Facebook’s coy response to being blocked in China:
Larry You Facebook Spokesman

“It does appear to be running slowly” in China, said Larry Yu, a spokesman for Palo Alto, California-based Facebook. “We’re looking into the matter, what the reason is for the service running slowly.”

Facebook using the words the “service is running slowly” is a bow to the power of the Chinese government. Larry’s choice of words also echoes the cautious approach to the Chinese market that all Internet majors are taking, after seeing Google’s problems in China and watching Yahoo!’s legal drama in China.

How Does the Government “Block Facebook”?

Image of Burning Bricks for FirewallThe Chinese government simply doesn’t let requests to Facebook.com be processed. Its really that simple to block Facebook. However, this level of control requires a sophisticated, large scale effort to accomplish.

China’s control over its Internet infrastructure is so complete that Internet packets addressed to Facebook servers are routinely deleted. China’s government is open about the fact that it inspects Internet traffic that 1) comes in and out of the country and 2) that travels around in the country. China uses sophisticated technologies like Deep Packet Inspection (DPI), where Internet routers analyze, drop and even save Internet packets – instead of simply passing them along (as they normally do).

China’s government control over information is not just technological – its economic. China’s government exerts control over every significant business in the country. Companies in China must be majority owned by a Chinese citizen, and even then are heavily regulated by the government. All the major corporations in China, including telecommunications and media companies, are state owned entities or are majority owned by the state. This exerts a significant level of state influence on how people receive and send information.

MySpace China

News Corp was forced to be a minority partner in MySpace China. MySpace could only launch operations in China if MySpace China was controlled and owned by a local company, and after receiving the appropriate licenses from various government ministries.

MySpace China was not targeted because it is “social media”. Yahoo Inc. and eBay Inc. both now follow China’s rules for foreign ownership of Internet companies, after attempting to reach Chinese citizens from operations based outside of China.

Future of Facebook China

Facebook may well face a permanent struggle in China. As the global leader in social media, Facebook should continue to give a voice to those challenging to the authority of the People’s Republic of China.

Will Facebook Be Banned On Every PC in China?

China recently mandated that all PCs in the country must use software called “Green Dam-Youth Escort“. Once installed, the software blocks your PC’s access to banned web sites. The Green Dam-Youth Escort software also does things we associate with spyware, like logging keystrokes, taking screen shots and sending information from your computer to third parties. If Facebook is put on the Green Dam-Youth Escort banned site list, it will dramatically impact Facebook’s international growth prospects.

Urumqi Crisis Victims

Our hearts go out to everyone killed, injured and disrupted in Urumqi. Hopefully you can read this.