(Mirror Daily, United States) – Mark Zuckerberg is determined to woo back China, and his efforts have been as visible as his intentions.
During the past year alone, he’s asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to give his unborn daughter an honorary Chinese name (a request Xi turned down), and bragged about reading Xi’s latest book of speeches – which he also handed out to colleagues and friends.
But we recently had the chance to witness his most impressive effort: he delivered a 20-minute speech in Mandarin at elite Tsinghua University. Yes, he did study the language for several years now, but according to native speakers, his pronunciation was “roughly on par with the clarity possible when someone’s on a bad Skype connection.”
But why is Zuckerberg so set on charming China? He’s meeting with Chinese presidents and reading Chinese science-fiction literature – to name only some of the ways Facebook’s young CEO is becoming the world’s most prominent China nerd. But here are some possible answers.
China is home to the world’s largest number of Internet users, and Facebook is looking for a way back in after being blocked since 2009. After all, you can’t “connect the whole world” if a nation as big as China is a missing puzzle piece. But if Zuckerberg would be willing to play by the Chinese rules – conforming to the strict censorship guidelines – doors are bound to open.
More difficult than that, however, is the next problem: are Chinese Internet users interested in what Facebook has to sell? So far, there’s little reason to believe they are. Chinese strongly prefer anonymity in public forums, and that’s exactly what Facebook’s architecture is not offering.
Back in 2008, before the social network was blocked, Internet users didn’t seem to jump on board so easily. The user base grew painfully slow as Facebook was largely seen as a foreign import; the few Chinese who actually adopted it were using it in order to stay in contact with friends acquire during their time abroad.
But before Facebook could figure out a way to impress more of the population, the Chinese government blocked the site on grounds that it helped separatists riot in China’s Xinjiang province. Those who still use Facebook today are an elite cohort who goes around China’s strict Internet controls through virtual private networks.
While Facebook is already trying to push some of its other products, such as WhatsApp, the company has met strong competition in the country. WeChat, for example, is much more popular due to its social-networking features, so Facebook might want to consider reining in its ambitions.
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