If Facebook decides to open shop in China, Human Rights Watch worries that the company could end up hurting rather than helping the human-rights situation.
"The entry of Facebook could be a chance for millions of Chinese users to enjoy freedom of information and expression, but it could also be an engine for yet new and severe human-rights violations if no safeguards are in place," Kenneth Roth, the advocacy group’s executive director, wrote in a letterto Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Roth cites comments by Facebook’s Adam Conner to The Wall Street Journal that the company may be allowing "too much ... free speech."
Speculation has raged over Facebook’s potential move into China, but the company has yet to confirm whether it will seek to enter that market.
"Right now, we're studying and learning about China but have made no decisions about it or how we will approach it," Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes said, in the standard answer to media questions about China.
But Roth asks that the nearly ubiquitous social network clarify whether it will allow dissidents to register anonymously to protect them from Chinese authorities; the implications of a potential partnership with the Chinese search engine Baidu.com; and whether Facebook will agree to censor online content.
"We urge that, as you work to define the terms of your entry, you do not collude with Chinese authorities in censoring political speech or helping them retaliate against Facebook users who want to benefit from the openness and connectivity that Facebook promotes,” Roth wrote. “We have long believed that the Internet has an enormous potential to advance human rights but only if corporations safeguard the ability of people to use it freely."
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