- Mark Zuckerberg slammed China for its censorship Thursday, stating that Facebook,Instagram, and WhatsApp don’t operate in the country because of the Chinese government’s rules banning certain content.
- He also took aim at TikTok, the Chinese viral video app that has complied with government censorship of messages protesting the situation in Hong Kong. TikTok is one of Facebook’s rising competitors.
- TikTok said in a public statement that it does not censor Hong Kong protest-related content.
- Facebook previously spent years trying to reach an agreement with the Chinese government, but “they would never let us in,” Zuckerberg said.
- Zuckerberg stopped short of saying Facebook has entirely given up on doing business in China in the future, however.
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Mark Zuckerberg had harsh words for China over its censorship of the internet on Thursday, when the Facebook CEO delivered a rare public speech at Georgetown University.
Specifically, Zuckerberg said that the Chinese government has forced TikTok, the very popular viral video app based in the country, to censor messages of support for the Hong Kong protests.
“While our services like WhatsApp are used by protesters and activists everywhere due to strong encryption and privacy protections, on TikTok, the China-based app growing quickly around the world, mentions of these same protests are censored, even here in the US,” Zuckerberg said. “Is that the internet we want?”
TikTok, for its part, issued a statement in response to Zuckerberg’s comments, as shared by Mashable’s Karissa Bell on Twitter:
“Our content and moderation policies are led by our US-based team and are not influenced by any foreign government. The Chinese government does not request that TikTok censor content, and would not have jurisdiction regardless, as TikTok does not operate there. To be clear: We do not remove videos based on the presence of Hong Kong protest content.”
Mark Zuckerberg lays out his stance on free speech
Zuckerberg’s speech was a defence of Facebook’s policies on content moderation, which the CEO aimed to tie to the importance of the First Amendment in the US. He framed Facebook as a tool for expanding free expression that widens the number of people across the globe with a public platform.
The future of free speech on the internet will be determined by the values of both social media platforms and the competing policies of governments across the globe, Zuckerberg argued. He framed China as one of the foremost threats to free expression.
“Until recently, the internet in almost every country outside China has been defined by American platforms with strong free expression values. There’s no guarantee these values will win out,” he said. “A decade ago, almost all of the major internet platforms were American. Today, six of the top ten are Chinese.”
The speech represented one of Zuckerberg’s strongest rebukes of China to date. Previously, Facebook has attempted to court Chinese authorities in order to gain access to the country’s massive market of internet users. The company was reportedly pitching censorship tools to woo Chinese approval in 2016, and Zuckerberg was rumoured to have asked Chinese president Xi Jinping to name his unborn child when they met the year prior.
Zuckerberg addressed this past involvement with China during his speech Thursday, stating that Facebook was ultimately unable to meet China’s censorship demands.
“I wanted our services in China because I believe in connecting the whole world,” he said. “I worked hard to make this happen. But we could never come to agreement on what it would take for us to operate there, and they never let us in.”
A handful of American companies have come under fire in recent weeks for acceding to pressure from the Chinese government to censor messages in support of Hong Kong protesters opposing the Chinese Communist Party. Blizzard, the NBA, and Apple have all come under scrutiny for downplaying or otherwise penalising support for the Hong Kong protestors, in apparent moves to appease the Chinese government.