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Is Zuckerberg selling his soul for Facebook access to China?

Preston Gralla | April 22, 2016
Even a mega-philanthropist can look craven when lusting after the world’s largest market.

Many people inside and outside of China didn’t forgive either the Chinese government or Zuckerberg, though. One person posted on Facebook: “The floor you stepped [on] has been covered by blood from students who fought for democracy. But, enjoy your running in China, Mark.”

To drive home the point, Hong Kong-based journalist Tom Grundy Photoshopped a mashup photo of Zuckerberg jogging at the head of the phalanx of Chinese army tanks that overran the square during the massacre.

The jog was only the start of Zuckerberg’s courting of Chinese leaders. He met with China's propaganda czar, Liu Yunshanm, which was something of a coup for China. In return, the official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported on the meeting, possibly signaling that the government is considering granting Facebook the market opening that it craves. Meanwhile, the government seemed to be taking steps to ensure that Zuckerberg and Facebook got the message that entry into China would come with a steep price (such as Zuckerberg’s soul). The International Business Times reported that the Chinese government used one of its official mouthpieces, the Global Times newspaper, to quote a cyber-expert to warn “that since Facebook’s filter system for dealing with ‘harmful information and internet fraud’ was ‘relatively lax,’ it would first need to be ‘improved according to Chinese laws.’ ” In other words, if Facebook wants in, it will have to agree to heavy censorship.

It’s disheartening to see Zuckerberg act like this. In other ways, his heart is in in the right place. He has said he will donate 99% of his Facebook shares to charity during his lifetime — shares that were worth about $45 billion at the time he made the announcement. And by most accounts, employees are treated very well at Facebook. It was number one on the list of “Business Insider's 2015 list of the 50 Best Companies to Work for In America,” and also number one on the “The 25 Best Places to Work” list compiled by the jobs site Glassdoor.

Zuckerberg is endangering these good works by the way he’s been playing footsie with the Chinese government. He should give serious thought to whether he wants to pursue the Chinese market in this way at what seems to be a high cost to his legacy.

 

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