China group says US uses Facebook to sow unrest

July 9, 2010 7:53:12 PM PDT
Facebook and other social networking sites based in the United States are being accused by a Chinese-funded academic group of allowing users to stir up unrest in China. The criticism was leveled in a study looking at the future of the Internet in China by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The report accuses the U.S. and other nations of using the sites to destabilize the government and society.

"They're concerned about anything that triggers or gives a tool to organizers of dissent in China in order to create genuine democracy there," Stephen Diamond said.

Diamond, a law professor at Santa Clara University and a political scientist, follows international human rights issues. He said that Facebook is in a difficult situation if it is true that U.S. intelligence agencies use social networks to stir things up in other countries at the same time that high-ranking officials, such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, call for a free and open Internet. Diamond said that Facebook should debate the issue internally and engage its users to determine what it should or should not do.

Facebook, based in Palo Alto, said it did not have time to comment Friday.

With a population of 1.3 billion people, China already has an estimated 400 million Internet users. That number is expected to grow dramatically as China builds out wireless networks and as Chinese consumers are able to purchase Internet-connected devices, whether computers or smart phones.

Eddan Katz, director of international affairs at San Francisco's Electronic Frontier Foundation, points out that this attack on U.S. social media networks is not new. China has also blamed the Internet in the past for having an influence on unrest in China's far west where Xinjiang Province has a large population of Uighur Muslims, who rebelled against Chinese rule last year, leading to 200 deaths. China has also accused the Internet for creating unrest in Iran.

"Those tools did have an effect in facilitating that kind of community and that kind of expression, but those ideas and those feelings were already there," Katz said.

Earlier this year, China and Google tangled over censorship of search results. Google said it would not cave in to China. Friday, it won renewal of its license to operate in the country.

"I think it's also recognition on the part of China that there are economic benefits to unfiltered search results, that it's not just a matter of expression in order to compete to compete in a global economic environment, having access to information is valuable," Diamond said.

Diamond believes Facebook will need to address what to do carefully.

"I think their board of directors ought to take this up and have a discussion about it, I think they ought to share the results of that discussion with their constituencies, which is a very broad group, and I hope they take the right step, which is to say they don't want to be used by governments, east or west," he said.


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