China reportedly plans to lift its ban on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. But it’s not a massive sea change for the secretive nation, which is still as concerned as ever about “cultural” pollution from America (which, to be honest, is probably something many Europeans feel strongly about, too). No, the move is instead designed to boost foreign investment and trade with China.
The unbarring will happen for Netizens inside Shanghai’s Free Trade Zone, a special economic area in China subject to slightly different governing rules than almost everywhere else. Since foreigners are used to doing business and carrying out their private communications via services like Facebook and Twitter, the hope is that by allowing these networks in the Free Trade Zone, China will boost investment. Similarly, media outlets like the New York Times, which is banned elsewhere, will be accessible from the zone.
China is one of the most censorial nations on Earth, and attempts to control nearly every aspect of its peoples’ online by restricting access. A new law, which makes it illegal to spread disinformation via social networks, is said to have recently claimed its first victim: A 16-year-old who merely questioned the conclusions of local police and was retweeted over 500 times. Separately, China is accused of widespread hacking of Facebook and Twitter feeds, email, and media outlets around the world. Can you say “cognitive dissonance”?