Facebook endorsed ‘questionable’ practices so it could move into China
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Facebook endorsed ‘questionable’ practices so it could move into China

AN internal memo distributed to the employees of social media giant Facebook has suggested that “questionable” business practices were acceptable if it meant achieving the company’s goals, including moving into the Chinese market.

Last week, Buzzfeed News first reported on the previously unpublished memo from June 2016, in which Facebook’s VP Andrew “Boz” Bosworth weighed up the costs of expanding and “connecting people”.

“We connect people. Period. That’s why all the work we do in growth is justified. All the questionable contact importing practices,” wrote Bosworth. “All the subtle language that helps people stay searchable by friends. All of the work we do to bring more communication in.”

“The work we will likely have to do in China some day. All of it.”

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The Facebook VP also acknowledged the potentially dangerous impacts of Facebook, stating that: “Maybe it costs a life by exposing someone to bullies. Maybe someone dies in a terrorist attack coordinated on our tools.”

Facebook users, advertisers and investors have been in an uproar for months over a series of scandals, most recently privacy practices that allowed political consultancy Cambridge Analytica to obtain personal information on 50 million Facebook members.

Along with Iran and North Korea, China is one of the only countries on earth which bans its citizens from accessing Facebook. It was initially blocked following 2009 riots by members of the ethnic Uyghur Muslim minority because members of the Xinjiang independence movement were thought to be using it to organise.

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A public security volunteer looks at her mobile phone as she keeps watch on a street during ongoing of the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s parliamentary body, in central Beijing, China March 7, 2018. Source: Reuters/Jason Lee

“In retrospect, China did the right thing by saying ‘no, thank you’ to Facebook and closing the door on it,” argued a recent op-ed published in the Chinese Communist Party-affiliated newspaper China Daily.

“Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has gone to great lengths to curry favour with Beijing authorities, all to no avail. Chinese analysts rightly surmised that Facebook was a ‘Trojan Horse’ that they could do without, despite every outward appearance of being a gift,” it read.

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“Internally, the US and China face similar challenges on how best to manage a vast information ecosystem, but for the moment at least, China can watch the Facebook smack-down with ‘I told you so’.”

CEO Mark Zuckerberg later sent a statement to Buzzfeed News in which he said he disagreed with the sentiment of Boz’s memo. “We’ve never believed the ends justify the means … We recognise that connecting people isn’t enough by itself. We also need to work to bring people closer together.”

“We changed our whole mission and company focus to reflect this last year,” Zuckerberg said.

Additional reporting from Reuters.