Facebook’s "Evil" Plan in China

Written by Julen Madariaga on April 23rd, 2011

The great China Beat has just published an article by James A. Millward about Facebook’s controversial plans for China.  The article is written from a cultural/human rights perspective, and it includes an interesting passage from LuXun’s Nahan.

“Imagine an iron house without windows, absolutely indestructible, with many people fast asleep inside who will soon die of suffocation. But you know since they will die in their sleep, they will not feel the pain of death. Now if you cry aloud to wake a few of the lighter sleepers, making those unfortunate few suffer the agony of irrevocable death, do you think you are doing them a good turn?”


“But if a few awake, you can’t say there is no hope of destroying the iron house.”

A nice quote, not unlike some of the comments I got in the Ai Weiwei post. Mr. Millward’s point is, in a nutshell:  that businesses (and Bob Dylan) admittedly don’t have an obligation to spread democratic values. BUT that we can appeal to the stated principle of Facebook “to help people understand the world around them” and nail them with that.

This is an argument reminiscent of the Google non-evil saga, which makes me think:  the day all those tech companies stop getting themselves in trouble with their idealistic statements we will know the tech market is growing old…

Back to the post, I am not particularly against Mr. Millward’s point: the Chinese are “sleeping” in their iron house, let’s make some noise to wake them up. Then again, it may still be 5am in China now with the time difference, perhaps they want to stay in bed a bit longer…  it’s fine if you want to make noise outside, lead by example. But please don’t make the mistake of breaking in to kick them out of their beds. Only theirs is the freedom to choose, even when their choice is a bit more of oppression.

The View from Reality Camp

Back from the fascinating realm of metaphor and into the tough Chinese internet. Quite apart from the moral side of this, there are some important issues with the practical implementation of the FB plan in China:

  • As Bill Bishop already mentioned, the train has long passed for FB here. General social networks are all about critical mass of users, the rest is gimmicks. The only possible chance would be, as suggested by Hu Yanping,  to come with an existing local player.
  • Either way, it is impossible to implement the level of censorship required on social networks today without effectively separating them from the rest of the World-(ie. to have the FB China servers open in China and the rest of the World with Facebook.com behind the GFW).
  • This makes the whole Facebook plan pointless indeed, as it fails to deliver the single value that, in my view, could justify all the trouble: to help connect China with the rest of the World.

In conclusion, I wouldn’t worry so much about the ethical side of this-I doubt we will ever reach that point.  Facebook may lend their name to some weird creature in China, perhaps, and they will pay it with their reputation.  But the real core of Facebook  is the 500 million community that it has in the World, and this, unfortunately, is out of reach for the Chinese netizens.

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Comments so far ↓

  1. Apr

    There are still people who seem to believe that a commercial organisation could act as some kind of champion for some sort of noble values. A company’s fundamental objective is to create value for its shareholders. This is the corner stone of the caplitalist system.

    If some firms claim that they hold some noble values at the heart of their organisation and run their business operation accordingly, there are only two things I can tell: either they are doing PR in order to, surprise, maximize their profit, or they are being managed/led by some idealists and are effectively another business doom story in the making.

    [Reply to this comment]

  2. Apr
    Julen Madariaga

    In general I agree, but not always. If the company has clearly stated a mission to defend noble values over making money, then the shareholders should know that before they buy the stock.

    In real life, CSR and Mission Statement of companies are usually written in a sufficiently ambiguous way as to not get in the way of business. What sets the limits for most corporations is not the principle itself (don’t be evil, wtf?) but rather the way their customer base can be mobilized by a perceived betrayal of said principles. This is particularly sensitive in the tech sector.

    In any case, I think international corporations have done a lot of good to many countries in the World, not by preaching and giving lessons, but just by being there, connecting different people, increasing local skills and giving jobs.

    [Reply to this comment]

  3. Apr

    Nice post. My thoughts in a round about way. “Ai Weiwei-Freedom”. Art, image.


    [Reply to this comment]

  4. May

    Just what exactly is it that you found hard to believe about the Han Han piece? That it was more direct than his other pieces?

    [Reply to this comment]

    Julen Madariaga Reply:


    1- It is definitely not his writing style, way too direct and too serious. Any Chinese person who reads his blog can tell you this.

    2- It didn’t come out on his blog RSS (never came out, if it did come and then was erased I would have seen record in the RSS like previous times).

    3- If he did write such a direct thing it means he wants to cross the line, this is the kind of direct dissidence statement that could get him jail… do you think he would risk so much for so little in return (ie. not making more PR noise about it to get some writing gig in the West??).

    I am not saying I am 100% certain, but it certainly looks like a fake. It warrants at least some due diligence…

    Of course, Boxun blog is on “the right side of history”, so even eminent scholars like Mr. Barme don’t see the need to check their facts… reading his blog you can tell he already knows how are the “baddies” and the “goodies” in this movie…

    PS- I transfer this conversation to the BUZZ stream where it belongs, and I send you a link there.

    [Reply to this comment]

    FOARP Reply:


    Couldn’t work out how to comment on the buzz stream (the absence of a “comment” button had my poor brain confused). Anyway, I agree that it’s not his usual style, but its just the fact that no denial has come out that made me think that it was genuine. Could be wrong though.

    [Reply to this comment]

    Julen Madariaga Reply:


    You should see a comment button below the comment thread here

    Anyway, no problem. Just make sure you check this link, we got some interesting comments there, and I will publish more tomorrow if I find any proof. I am almost sure now the article is fake.

    [Reply to this comment]

    FOARP Reply:


    For some reason there is no comments field, tried with more than one browser but can’t get it to work. Weird.

    The lack of an RSS notification, plus Boxun taking the post down, would seem to make it likely that this post was not Han Han’s.

    [Reply to this comment]

  5. Mar
    擦机布 - www.xbwes.com|vymgzb

    呵呵!博主文章很不错,支持下。。。顶!..壬辰年(龙)二月十一 2012-3-3

    [Reply to this comment]

  6. Sep

    We have seen a lot of paranoic like him, Nothing but only a sensationalism

    [Reply to this comment]

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