Yesterday, Facebook founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, took to the stage at Georgetown University and delivered a speech defending freedom of expression. In his speech, he made a public denouncement of the Chinese Communist Party, and warned that China is “building its own internet focused on different values.” He also remarked that he would not try to bring his products to China, as the restrictions the CCP would impose on Facebook’s platforms are incompatible with the values of Facebook and American values of free expression. This deserves much praise and attention.
Today, China has a massive influence over the West. China is the world’s second-largest consumer market and is expected to become the first-largest sometime this year. Because of China’s strict controls over its economy and the massive market opportunity China presents, the CCP is able to deny access to U.S. companies that don’t bow to the Chinese regime and is able to exert massive amounts of influence over the way U.S. companies operate as a consequence.
To name just a few of the many incidents of American companies kowtowing to the Chinese regime:
- The NBA has continually apologized for players and a general manager taking pro-Hong Kong stances.
- Blizzard Entertainment has banned several gamers for displaying “Free Hong Kong"signs.
- Marriot fired an employee for liking an anti-Chinese tweet.
This is worrying. China is attempting to control the dialogue and promote their ideology, not just at home, but abroad, and to some degree, it’s working.
In his speech, Zuckerberg noted that “a decade ago, almost all the major internet platforms were American. Today, 6 of the top 10 are Chinese.” The United States is a bit of an anomaly when it comes to the adoption of Chinese devices and services. Abroad, Huawei phones, routers, and networking devices are just as prevalent as Apple devices.
As China’s economy expands, its ability to control the narrative by controlling censorship practices in its state-owned technologies and platforms will grow. As China’s consumer market expands, unless American companies take strong ideological stances against the values of the CCP, China's power to spin the narrative using American companies will grow as well.
It is immensely important for American companies to take a stance against the Chinese regime. China has millions of its own people—ethnic & religious minorities, and political dissidents—in concentration camps where they are part of an assembly line system to be executed to supply organs to the highest bidder within the CCP, and are routinely tortured, raped, and used for medical experimentation. Companies that cooperate with the CCP are complacent with human rights abuses that are on par with the Nazi Empire’s.
This is not a call for the resurrection of McCarthyism, economic sanctions, or heightened tariffs. We have already seen that China is willing to let its economy and people suffer before relinquishing any degree of political control. This is a call for businesses to uphold Western principles to fight the influence of a regime that would indoctrinate not just their people, but people abroad as well.
While it still seems like a far stretch, it’s not impossible to imagine a future in which China’s economic power is so great that it could pressure even our social media platforms to adopt the CCP’s own policies of censorship standards. We’ve already seen this happen to some degree with Blizzard and the NBA. This is not a future anyone in the West should want, and we should applaud Mark Zuckerberg for the stance he is taking.
Thankfully, the discussion around China is changing. Previously, media companies’ reporting on China was sparse at best. While China’s human rights abuses have been going on for decades, and their abuses have been known to those who have followed the topic closely. China’s abuses over its people have only come under the media spotlight and into the public consciousness in the wake of the ongoing Hong Kong protests within the last couple of weeks.
Mark Zuckerberg did a remarkable thing yesterday, and Facebook became the first major technology company to take a stance against the tyrannical CCP. This serves as a contrast to Apple, another U.S. tech giant, which has cooperated with the CCP by removing an app used by Hong Kong protestors to track police movement, removing the Taiwanese flag emoji from Chinese devices, and is now sending user data to Chinese state-owned company, Tencent.
Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook deserve a lot of praise for being leaders on this issue. On the other hand, history will look back at companies cooperating with the Chinese government as we do with companies that collaborated with the Third Reich.
Keagan Wernicke is an entrepreneur, marketer, and political advocate. He started his entrepreneurial career after unenrolling from college and sold his first company, GroupThreads, an e-commerce platform, in 2017. Keagan currently runs his own digital marketing agency, Moonshot Marketers. As President of FITA, he now advocates for free markets within the technology industry and a culture that respects first amendment principles. Follow Keagan on Twitter.