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Facebook Wants to Be Liked in Washington, China

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, April 20 2011

White House photo by Pete Souza

Facebook is considering expanding into China, and with that the country will face some tough choices, report the Wall Street Journal's Elizabeth Williamson, Amy Schatz, and Geoffrey A. Fowler:

Meanwhile, Facebook is talking with potential Chinese partners about entering the huge China market, where the government has been cracking down on dissidents. That crackdown has come in response to the uprisings shaking authoritarian Middle Eastern regimes, movements that have used U.S.-based social-media sites like Facebook and Twitter as organizing tools.

"Maybe we will block content in some countries, but not others," Adam Conner, a Facebook lobbyist, told the Journal. "We are occasionally held in uncomfortable positions because now we're allowing too much, maybe, free speech in countries that haven't experienced it before," he said.

"Right now we're studying and learning about China but have made no decisions about if, or how, we will approach it," said Debbie Frost, Facebook's director of international communications.

The article is running under the headline "Facebook Seeking Friends in Beltway," which puts a certain spin on President Obama's Facebook-moderated "town hall" at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto later today. But White House spokesperson Jennifer Psaki says in the piece that Obama doesn't have any prepared remarks on China ready to go this afternoon.

But she does explain why Obama is doing the event: "Facebook, with more than a half a billion users, is a great opportunity for the president to speak directly to the American people."

Added: Foreign Policy's Joshua Keating points out that Conner's commentary about the amount of free speech Facebook lets in "highlights the increasingly awkward relationship between Facebook and the democratic activists who have championed its use as an organizing tool."