Facebook is planning to launch in China. The site will be a partnership and perhaps a joint venture with leading Chinese search engine Baidu, but it will not be an independent social network. At least that’s what a report by AllThingsD’s Liz Gannes says.The basic idea is that a similar version to Facebook will exist behind the Chinese firewall and be connected to Facebook’s huge global social graph. When a user outside China connects with a user inside China, they will see a warning that content they share with that person might be seen by the Chinese government.
Baidu, meanwhile, would handle relationships with the Chinese government and the inevitable accompanying censorship, as well as probably front some of the costs of setting up the service. Baidu would then get a share of the profits, of course.
This is a tricky situation. A lot of people have been advising Facebook to build a standalone site, but Facebook sees its mission as connecting the world’s people via one big united social graph. And also that social graph is a huge competitive advantage: Facebook took over the world country by country because it had a a global social graph. But that makes it trickier politically, especially since the Middle East upheaval, where Facebook is credited with helping a lot of the democratization there, which can only make China’s government nervous.
And there’s the same old ethical dilemma: by going to China, is Facebook behaving badly by bowing to censorship, or doing good by hopefully bringing some openness to the country?
One thing is for sure though: Facebook is determined to get into China one way or another. Mark Zuckerberg and the Chinese Communist Party look like an unstoppable force meeting an unmovable object.