A Chinese Facebook?

Mark Zuckerberg’s latest trip to China appears to have borne fruit. You know — that unidentifiable spiky fruit you just bought at the Chinese grocery store and now you’re not sure which part you’re supposed to eat.

According to Sohu.com, a deal has been signed with Chinese search engine Baidu to begin the process of setting up an exclusively Chinese Facebook — entirely separate from the rest of the Facebook network. This deal has raised a lot of questions, with observers concerned about the new Chinese Facebook being complicit in government censorship and the surveillance of its users.

For those who don’t know, Facebook is the largest social networking site of all time, and is used by millions of people all over the world to organize groups, plan events and creep on their friends.

Also, welcome to the internet. You’re going to love it.

Today, Facebook has over 500 million users — it’s a lot like McDonald’s, as in “seriously, why are you still counting?!”

But why should we be concerned? Isn’t “public the new private”? Mark Zuckerberg said so. And if I understood the movie The Social Network correctly, Mark’s a stand-up guy.

For anyone who’s ever actually used Facebook, you know how invasive it can be. The moment your status changes to “single” you are inundated with ads for dating sites and mail-order brides. In a relationship? Engagement rings. It’s complicated? Divorce lawyers.

Facebook was originally blocked by the Chinese government for the role it played in helping Uighur activists to organize protests in 2009.

Again, for those not in the know, the Chinese government — the people who brought you lead-based toys — currently operates the most notorious internet censorship regime in the world. The Great Firewall blocks all kinds of content from pornography to social media sites to opinions critical of the ruling party. In conjunction with its national filtering system, the government also employs a number of surveillance measures designed to identify users who attempt to access restricted content.

And they aren’t selling engagement rings.

Photo by Rishi Bandopadhay. Used with permission under Creative Commons license 2.0

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