Facebook developed secret software to censor user posts in China, report says

Facebook has developed censorship software in an effort to get China to lift its seven-year ban on the world’s largest social network, according to reports.

The social network developed the software to suppress posts from appearing in users’ news feeds in specific geographies with the support of the chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, according to the New York Times. The posts themselves will not be suppressed, only their visibility.

A Facebook spokesperson said: “We have long said that we are interested in China, and are spending time understanding and learning more about the country.

“However, we have not made any decision on our approach to China.”

The Cybersecurity Administration of China, the country’s internet regulator, did not immediately respond to request for comment. China’s foreign ministry declined to comment.

China banned Facebook after the Urumqi riots in July 2009 in an effort to stem the flow of information about the unrest which left 140 people dead. The ban denied the social network access to the world’s largest population of internet users, which will be key to Facebook’s continued growth.

Facebook would offer the software to enable third parties to monitor popular stories and topics that gain visibility as users share them across the network. The third-party partners would have full control to decide whether those posts should show up in users’ feeds, but there is no indication that Facebook has offered the software to China yet.

US internet companies have a practice of complying with legitimate government requests to block posted information in keeping with local laws, subject to evaluation.

Facebook restricted content in a score of countries in the second half of last year, according to the company’s most recent transparency report.

In Russia it restricted content that authorities there said violated “the integrity of the Russian Federation and local law which forbids activities such as mass public riots and the promotion and sale of drugs.”

Access to items in Pakistan was restricted owing to allegations that local blasphemy laws were violated.

In France, Facebook restricted content reported under laws prohibiting denying of the Holocaust or condoning terrorism. It also removed posts of an image relating to the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris on the grounds they violated French laws related to the protection of human dignity.

Meanwhile, Facebook has come under fire in the past few months from those who accuse the social network of not having done enough to filter out fake news stores that may have swayed the outcome of the US presidential election.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Samuel Gibbs and agencies, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 23rd November 2016 15.08 Europe/London

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