Has The Middle East Hurt Facebook's China Ambitions?

While debatable, Facebook is rapidly becoming recognized as a vehicle for democracy based on recent events in the Middle East, something that many regimes are not exactly fans of.

China FlagWhile debatable, Facebook is rapidly becoming recognized as a vehicle for democracy based on recent events in the Middle East, something that many regimes are not exactly fans of.

Facebook As A Vehicle For Democracy

Facebook has always avoided taking a position on global events but despite the company’s silence it’s clear that Facebook is a global communication platform which values the single most important aspect of democracy: freedom of speech. While there has long been the argument that Facebook arbitrarily restricts that right based on local laws and their own internal policies (e.g. the banning of breast feeding photos), the net result has been that users are given the freedom of speech, even in countries where they’ve previously been restricted.

This has been proven with the recent Egypt events which have generated instability throughout the region with Facebook taking center stage as a platform for dialog among the opposition. Freedom of speech isn’t exactly something that has been welcomed by all people though, especially in the case of hate speech. In Pakistan, the site was banned less then a year ago following the publishing of an event named “Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!”

Despite Facebook’s constant challenges with balancing the right of its users to freedom of speech, it’s clear that many now believe Facebook serves as the ultimate tool for organizing movements. Whether it was Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Bahrain, or any other country, Facebook has supposedly played an integral role, often serving as the platform for beginning the movements. With that in mind, one can only imagine that this is going to damage Facebook’s chance of expanding countries that currently ban the service, including China.

China’s Continued Ban On Facebook

For years, China has blocked access to Facebook, enabling local competitors to grow in to multi-billion dollar companies. However Facebook’s Chief Executive Officer, Mark Zuckerberg, has openly acknowledged that one of his goals for 2011 is to expand into the region, kicking things off with a pre-New Year’s visit to China. The trip reportedly helped to grow the small Chinese user base, although it’s still not clear that the growth will be sustained.

With the recent events in the Middle East though, one would have to imagine that China is not exactly going to be rushing to open up access to the company. If anything, it could significantly damage Facebook’s chance of entering the market. Granted, the Middle East is far different than China, so there is still a chance that China will make an exception, but that chance is slim to none. For now we’ll have to wait and see how things evolve but right now, the situation in the Middle East and its association with Facebook definitely can’t be helping it with its international growth ambitions.

Do you think China will open up access to Facebook or has the recent Middle East instability damaged the company’s chances indefinitely?