Facebook is reportedly developing a content “censorship tool” that will allow officials to prevent posts and stories from appearing in a user’s news feed. The New York Times claims that the social giant has developed the software specifically to try and lift a seven-year ban in China, as it wants to expand into the country with potentially the most Internet users.
According to the report, the tool would prevent stories from surfacing in news feeds in “specific geographic areas,” though it wouldn’t delete them entirely. The third-party partners who have access to the software would be able to have full control over the visibility of posts, which could enable Facebook to meet stringent demands in regards to content access.
China banned Facebook seven years ago following the Urumqi riots, but investors are reportedly eager for the platform to expand into new territories. The social network refused to confirm whether it had been developing a censorship tool but did acknowledge its interest in China. “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.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a campaign group for Internet privacy, said that the project appears to be “disturbing,” but Facebook has claimed that it already cooperates with government censorship efforts in countries such as Pakistan and Russia and that the tool would merely be an extension of those initiatives. However, there is no indication that the company will offer the software to any authorities, including China’s, in the coming months.
Facebook remains steadfast in its commitment to bring about positive changes across the globe, but it is easy to see how this potential venture could conflict with that idealistic outlook. Whether it eventually decides to follow through with this plan or not, it appears that Facebook is facing growing pressures from within to reach “the next billion users.”
Facebook, along with Google, has also recently been criticised for not doing enough to stamp out “fake news” stories that may have had an impact on the outcome of this month’s US Presidential Election.