Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook and now Time’s Person of the Year 2010, wants to boldly go where few English-language social networks have gone before, China. According to the Guardian, Zuckerberg has been in meetings with Baidu head Robin Li. If Baidu, China’s Google, was to lobby for a lift on the censorship of Facebook that was placed in 2008 by the Chinese government, Zuckerberg may actually have a chance at breaking into the largest Internet-connected population in the world. While a spokesman for Baidu said that “It was just two nerds comparing notes,” and to “keep the speculation in check,” there’s no denying that the Chinese population is a worthy target for the biggest social network in the world. “How can you connect the whole world if you leave out a billion people?” said a decidedly optimistic Zuckerberg in a speech at Stanford University.
The last time a big website made political waves in the Chinese censorship arena was when Google tried to appease the government’s abhorrence of uncensored internet search. They originally decided not to censor results from Google.cn, but the government wasn’t having any of that, and after a few rounds of concessions and negotiation, Google was forced to compromise by giving a link to a Honk Kong portal on the actual Chinese portal, thus making the default google.cn search site censored. While Google still maintains a presence in China, this was seen by many as ultimately a loss for the censor-free world.
If Facebook was to gain access within the Great Firewall of China, and keep their service predominantly unchanged while abiding by Chinese Internet laws, it wouldn’t only be a win for Facebook. For those that stand for the downfall of censorship, it would mean a step forward in the modernization of China’s media infrastructure, both connected and traditional. That being the case, this meeting between the two Internet giants will not be portrayed as anything more than a friendly chat about exploring options for the future. However, knowing the entrepreneurial nature of both parties, we don’t believe for one second that this isn’t going to be big.