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Double Standards: Why Facebook should be locked out of China

For those who don’t know it yet, China is now the second hottest hub for startups and internet based enterprises in the world ( after Silicon Valley). Investors and entrepreneurs everywhere you think of are cracking their heads to figure out a way to be a part of the world’s biggest market by internet users and most other metrics.

Techcrunch recently extended its legendary TC Disrupt event to Beijing, heralding the first time the event has ever left the US. The middle kingdom as China is also known, has arrived with a bang. Sarah Lacy of Techcrunch is one of a few international tech journalists serious about emerging markets. The following statement in an article by her underscores their entrance into China:

This is not a conference about Silicon Valley coming to China to tell the country how it’s done. China is the only other country in the world where entrepreneurs are already building $1 billion Internet powerhouses. This is a conference that seeks to bridge the gap between the two preeminent tech ecosystems in the world today.

I recently came across an article by TechNode, the premier English tech blog in China. It featured details about how Facebook has set its focus on entering China as a number one priority. With approximately 700 million users around the world, Facebook’s only impediment from total world domination is that China’s 485 million netizens cannot legally access Facebook as it is blocked.

The Chinese government maintains a firm grip on the internet, while local tech entrepreneurs have a ball by basically duplicating Silicon Valley’s finest. This phenomenon is now known as C2C; Copy to China. China’s Facebook; Renren recently listed on the New York Stock Exchange and raised $743 million purely driven by such hype. Investors could not resist dipping their fingers into Facebook’s zhing-zhong (Zimbabwean slang for Made In China) equivalent.

If Hollywood’s usual sensationalism was not too far off in its tale of how Facebook began (through the Social Network movie), I can just imagine the reaction at Facebook about Chinese clones having a party. Mark Zuckerberg and his troops must be freaking out since their stated goal is to “change the world”. In many contexts, the world today can also refer to China. Such is the power it now wields. Every serious brand is positioning itself there in one way or another, being in Facebook’s shoes must be very frustrating.

I could have shed a couple of tears for them if they didn’t have double standards.

You cannot target Zimbabwe as a location for your adverts on Facebook. Facebook just won’t let you, despite the obvious case that Zimbabwe’s internet (and therefore Facebook) population is greater than Malawi and Zambia, both which you can target.

The statistics of Zimbabwe’s Facebook population is also impossible to get from Facebook or Socialbakers!

Yes, we know that there are “issues” influencing this, but what does that have to do with Facebook users or entrepreneurs wishing to grow their businesses through advertising on the platform. Over the past couple of months Techzim has gotten touch with Facebook representatives for Africa, and contacts in Silicon Valley to find out why on earth this is so. Such efforts were either met with very silly reasons like:

Facebook’s population in Zimbabwe is still very small, however once there is growth we’ll have the Zimbabwe section turned on.

When asked what this small population was or why Somalia, DRC, Chad, Iraq, and other “unfavourable” nations could be target with Facebook advertising, guess what happened… absolute silence. After looking into to it we laughed our heads off as Zimbabwe, Burma, North Korea, and Iran appear to be the only countries one can’t target with Facebook ads. I once heard a joke about visitors to North Korea having to leave cellphones at the airport once you arrive… Surely Zimbabwe isn’t even close to that. More so, Zim is actually one of the best places to live provided you have a generator/solar system, borehole and you mind your own business.

The truth is most developing countries don’t even match the holistic standard of everyday living in Zimbabwe. And l’m not being elitist; this statement applies to all classes. Ever heard of what the lower classes of India, Brazil, Russia, China, Nigeria, Kenya, and other “hot markets” have to go through? Even the continent’s powerhouse, South Africa has one of the highest inequality rates in the world, social instability and whole neighbourhoods of shacks.

Besides the crazy political stuff, Zimbabwe is a great place with great people and one of the highest internet populations on the continent. So when publications like the Economist state that Harare is the worst city to live in the world, or Facebook allows locals access to the platform while denying them an ability to grow through it, I get very confused.

It seems the hatred for certain individuals is so strong that it has been extended to the whole country. Well l don’t have a problem with that. It happens. My position is that companies like these should be blocked in the one market that magically erases their morally upright stature; China. After all, this is the China that isn’t in sync with the modern world ‘civilised’ beliefs, right? They broke almost every rule in the book but still conquered the world. They even ban foreign companies from operating in China unless a local partner is chosen.

In Zuckerberg’s numerous forays, there he was reportedly courting Baidu (China’s Google) for a partnership and reports have also surfaced that Sina could be the likely partner. Facebook really is desperate about entering China, good luck to them.

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23 thoughts on “Double Standards: Why Facebook should be locked out of China

  1. “The Chinese government maintains a firm grip on the internet”

    for a while now, recently increasing in the last few weeks.. some of our websites have been receiving alot of traffic from china which has resulted in alot of forum spamming and trolling on forums and other ‘social’ based websites. i can tell you that the traffic definitely did come from chinese subnets as per logs and other traffic based monitoring.

    i then came across the website below while doing research about the issue:

    this site gives you info on how you can protect yourself, and your website from being continuously spammed by traffic coming from Asia. whats interesting is that spamming (and sometimes hack attempts) are a problem from chinese subnets. if they can go to the extremes of blocking out facebook etc, why cant they take serious steps against spamming, hacking, social engineered emails, etc from their own networks?

  2. Nice Limbikani. It is the same for other applications such as Google (street view), Nokia ovi maps……………its disheartening. Maybe this spell opportunities for our start-ups.

    1. Street view, ovi maps etc is different in the sense that it requires some serious man hours to generate the content (or money to purchase it from someone who has, but then the market doesnt justify it).  Facebook have to put in very little effort to post an advert, as long as they can get paid (which is a problem) its easy money.

      This is where smaller companies can fill the gap, cant use PayPal cos its not worth PayPal’s time to get setup here, fine use MoneyBookers they willing to do it cos they dont have the luxury of having plenty of money to spare so work harder to fill the fringe areas.

  3. Matambo, why are you sketting around the obvious? Zimbabwe is under sanctions and any US company is bound by Zidera. Is that difficult for you to say or you chose to be intetionally ignorant?

    1. macdchip  l believe Zimbabwean businesses can use Google Adwords or Adsense to grow locally. I have seen a couple of ads of and also know of people receiving checks ($) from Google right here in Zimbabwe. Does Google not comply with the Zidera? Will it comply by blocking each and every Zimbo from earning an honest living through the above?

      If Facebook count Zimbabwe as part of the 700 Million users, why not just “comply” and block the whole country from using the platform. People must remember that Facebook is NOT FREE, we pay with our information which Zuckerberg and company then flip out in front of investors and advertisers. This is universal and applies beyond the relatively small population of internet users locally.

      1.  in every system there is always a way round things, some might want to take risk some might not! What l mean is Google might choose to take the risk and get prosecuted knowing that the fines they will incur are just mere pet cash change.

        Explain to me then the situation with Paypal, here is a snap shot:

        Error 3028: You have accessed your account from a sanctioned country.
        Per international sanctions regulations, you are not authorized to
        access the PayPal system, For more information about your PayPal account
        status, contact

  4. To play devils advocate.  One major difference here compared to most of the developing world is that our banking sector is largely home grown and well behind the times when it comes to integration and the ability to make online payments, very few can offer a decent VISA issuer service and even less VISA acquiring.  So while it is not necessarily the number of facebook users but rather the number of people able to advertise (and pay the bill) that is restrictively small.  They could always open up a local office but does the income justify that, not to mention the possible bad press to them if things in Zimbabwe go bad again and they seen to be doing business here.  The risks simple do not outweigh the rewards.

    1. “….very few can offer a decent VISA issuer servic….”

      l dont believe any bank in Zim is offering a full direct VISA service, most l believe its through third party! Most notable international banks like Barclays and Standard Chartered are run as a separate Zim exclusive from there parent companies, this l had confirmed both in Zim and abroad! 

  5. So true. and this applies to online payments as well. really does suck. and the Economist article was just plain bs. Even on the silly metrics they use zim is better than other African countries-availability of lean water and electricity etc.

  6. I remember mentioning such inequalities in a multitude of my comments to much ridicule and misunderstanding. It’s all about politics politics politics and in some documented cases supremacism and even racism, technology is no exception.  Because at the end of the day it’s about gaining an advantage over the weak, what you might otherwise call free market capitalism or simpler still… competition.

    There is an often unsettling utopian optimism and blatant ignorance that pervades Zim tech circles. It is characterized by an overly impractical way of looking at Zimbabwe, Africa and the entire third world’s problems.I think the onus is now on you Techzim to relate this politics to economics.

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