China’s firewall cracks: Facebook allowed in free-trade zone of Shanghai

Monday night, Facebook Co-Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted the above photo to his timeline, showing a map of Facebook friend connections around the world. One commenter pointed out that China looks quite dark.

That may change soon. According to the South China Morning Post, Beijing is lifting the Internet firewall that has prevented residents from legally accessing Facebook and Twitter — but only within the free-trade zone of Shanghai. This decision will also allow residents to view the website of The New York Times.

Previously, such websites were deemed too politically sensitive and have been banned since 2009, but now it appears that Facebook has a foothold into China — and its 1.35 billion residents (roughly 590 million of whom are online). A Facebook representative confirmed to Inside Facebook that the company is aware of this news, but declined to comment further.

[contextly_sidebar id=”fa6cb9387c0e4c7a5b5a1cd77fcd4143″]Both COO Sheryl Sandberg and Zuckerberg have met privately with Chinese officials, though Facebook noted that the primary cause for Sandberg’s visit was to promote her book, Lean In. Sandberg said last March that getting into China is pretty much entirely up to the country, not the company.

An anonymous Chinese government source discussed the decision with the South China Morning Post:

In order to welcome foreign companies to invest and to let foreigners live and work happily in the free-trade zone, we must think about how we can make them feel like at home. If they can’t get onto Facebook or read The New York Times, they may naturally wonder how special the free-trade zone is compared with the rest of China.

The ruling only affects the 28.78-kilometer free-trade zone within China’s most populous city of Shanghai. Facebook and Twitter will remain blacklisted throughout the country until further notice. China is the world’s largest country, in terms of population. Zuckerberg’s goal of making the world more open and connected could gain a major boost with China’s eventual thumbs-up.

Gordon Chang, author of “The Coming Collapse of China,” spoke with Bloomberg about this landmark decision. He noted that it will take a couple months before Facebook is actually freed up in that zone:

This is certainly going to be the exception to the rule. We’ve had Xi Jinping, the new General Party Secretary, been in office since September — he’s been tightening down the Internet and he’s had all this malice that marks his campaigns, but nonetheless, they’re going to try to restrict this to foreigners in about 20 square miles of Shanghai. That’s going to be unsustainable, because the Chinese, they live and they work next to those foreigners in Pudong. They’re going to take about six minutes to figure out how to get a foreigner account. … Also Chinese around the country are not going to like special privileges for foreigners.

It is inevitable that (Facebook, Twitter, The New York Times) will be unbanned for various reasons. There are a lot of Chinese officials who know that the Internet and the web have got to come to everybody in China and it’s got to come unfiltered.

There are ways to get around the Chinese firewall with a little know-how, and several people already have. 2012 data from Socialbakers shows that around 450,000 Facebook users are from China, but that figure has likely grown.

According to PageData, more than 278,000 people who have their hometown set as somewhere within China have liked a page dedicated to a Texas Hold’em Poker game. Of the top 25 pages liked by Chinese users, only two have seen decreases over the past day.

Here are the top 15 Facebook pages with the most likes from China:

# Name Total Likes  % of Likes Daily Growth
1    德州撲克(中文版) 278,258 4 -177
2    五月天 阿信 39,842 2 +90
3 29,472 1 +10
4    王力宏 Wang Leehom 28,982 2 +20
5    無限德州撲克 28,331 6 -60
6    周杰倫 Jay Chou 27,819 1 +14
7    馬英九總統 26,637 2 +11
8    ไพ่เท็กซัส 20,700 1 +11
9    Facebook Korea 19,039 0 +12
10    Facebook Japan 17,896 0 +10
11    姚明 Yao Ming 16,736 1 +20
12    Mayday五月天 14,804 2 +47
13    陳奕迅Eason Chan 14,771 2 +16
14    BIGBANG 14,310 0 +23
15    Facebook navi (フェイスブックナビ) 13,865 0 +6


Readers: Do you think this is the start of something bigger for Facebook in China?

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