Facebook is by far the world's most popular social network, but it remains officially banned in China. In an effort to finally gain a foothold there, the company has partered up with Baidu, China's widely used internet portal, to create a government-approved social-networking site that could potentially reach hundreds of millions of people. If it's approved by the Chinese government — a big if — the Facebook/Baidu network would act as a standalone site; it would probably not bear the Facebook imprimatur, or even be officially integrated with Facebook.com. Regardless, Facebook would certainly face questions about the ethics of working with China, given its dicey history of censorship. Is this the right move for Zuckerberg and Co.?
This deal is all upside: A potential partnership between Baidu and Facebook is logical (and potentially lucrative) for both companies, says Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry at Business Insider. To break into the enormous Chinese market, Facebook could use a local helping hand. Baidu, meanwhile, is currently trying to ward off a social-networking challenge from upstart Tencent, and "it might be a safer bet to build a social network with one of the most successful social companies in the world than to try to build its own."
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Government officials won't be easily convinced: "Zuckerberg has his work cut out for him on both sides of the Pacific," says Gady Epstein at Forbes. Since he visited China in December to lay the groundwork for this deal, Facebook has become synonymous with anti-government uprisings in the Middle East, so the social network will have to win over Chinese officials wary of dissent. Stateside, the Obama administration and Congress will likely ask Zuckerberg "about all the concessions he would have to make to a country that is in the midst of blackening its already lamentable record on human rights."
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Even a censored Facebook would be good for China: There's a stereotype that social networks like Facebook make young people more isolated, says James Downie at The New Republic. But research of young Americans shows that Facebook improves "students' life satisfaction, social trust, civic participation, and political engagement." Hey, "if social networking can increase civic engagement among a population whose chief Facebook concern is that one photo their friends took at a frat party on Saturday, then it's easier to be optimistic about Facebook in China."
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