Update: According to a Reuters source, Facebook is considering entering China but has not yet signed a business deal
In a bid to capture China's 450 million some Internet users, Facebook is building a social network in the Middle Kingdom, reports Sohu.com. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg signed an agreement with Baidu, China's largest search engine, to begin a jointly-owned network that presumably complies with China's strict censorship laws. The website's launch date is currently unknown.
Out of the gates, Zuckerberg's agreement is being hailed as a big win in the tech press. "The deal makes sense for both sides," writes Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry at Business Insider. "On Facebook's side, it needs a big local partner to break into the huge Chinese market. On Baidu's side, it is threatened by social network juggernaut 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." Penn Olson at the Asian Tech Catalog called it a potentially "giant accomplishment for the company" and a "big personal win" for Zuckerberg.
Still, we can foresee a number of major challenges the partnership poses for Facebook. The most immediate being its ability to reproduce a culture of over-sharing and self-expression in a country with a thoroughgoing censorship system (those rules are why Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are currently blocked in the country). Will Facebook have to apply all the censoring algorithms for updates from tens of millions of members that Google had to apply to search results -- before it decided it had had enough? Also, what if, like with Google, the Communist Party uses Facebook to monitor human rights activists? Is Facebook willing to aid a repressive regime? Those are just a few of the pressing problems Zuckerberg will be grappling with as his company enters this massive and potentially lucrative market.