Facebook 'might let China censor newsfeed content'

Facebook website on a computer screen

Facebook is allegedly working on a tool that would allow Chinese censors to suppress posts from appearing in people's newsfeeds, in an effort to gain entry to the lucrative Chinese market.

China's strict censorship laws have barred many popular apps and services from being available within the country. Major tech companies have had to wrestle with the dilemma of whether to capitulate to the state's requirements, or to forego access to the country's ever-growing economy.

The tool - which has allegedly been under development for some time - would allow a third party to monitor trending topics and emerging stories. This third party would then be able to prevent topics from showing up in users' feeds, effectively silencing issues at will.

Three current and former Facebook employees told the New York Timesabout the alleged existence of the tool, speaking under condition of anonymity. While they admitted that the project is one of many ideas regarding China circulating within the company, they added that it had the personal backing of CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

The project has reportedly been contentious, and sources said that its existence has caused some employees to leave the company altogether. It comes to light at a time when Facebook is in the spotlight over the role played by fake and misleading news in the US election, leading to tough questions over what the platform should and shouldn't allow.

While Facebook has previously made a habit of complying with government requests to remove content (as has virtually every other tech company) this would be the first time that the company has allowed state actors to control which content makes it to users in the first place.

"We have long said that we are interested in China, and are spending time understanding and learning more about the country," a Facebook spokesperson said. "However, we have not made any decision on our approach to China. Our focus right now is on helping Chinese businesses and developers expand to new markets outside China by using our ad platform."

Adam Shepherd

Adam Shepherd has been a technology journalist since 2015, covering everything from cloud storage and security, to smartphones and servers. Over the course of his career, he’s seen the spread of 5G, the growing ubiquity of wireless devices, and the start of the connected revolution. He’s also been to more trade shows and technology conferences than he cares to count.

Adam is an avid follower of the latest hardware innovations, and he is never happier than when tinkering with complex network configurations, or exploring a new Linux distro. He was also previously a co-host on the ITPro Podcast, where he was often found ranting about his love of strange gadgets, his disdain for Windows Mobile, and everything in between.

You can find Adam tweeting about enterprise technology (or more often bad jokes) @AdamShepherUK.