Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

10 reasons why using Facebook sucks in China

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1. The biggest problem with using Facebook in China is that you can’t. Facebook, like many western social media sites, is blocked by China’s so-called Great Firewall. YouTube, Twitter, several news sites, Instagram, and Dropbox, among others, are all disabled. There are ways to get around the firewall and most expats in China use a VPN (virtual private network) to leap over the wall. This makes getting in touch with your friends and seeing those all-important messages dependent on the reliability of your VPN.

2. The fact it’s banned means only a tiny minority of Chinese people — usually those who have had the most contact with foreigners — have used Facebook, making it harder to stay in touch with your Chinese friends. You can’t add friends if they aren’t on it.

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What a desktop VPN looks like

3. Chinese internet can be slow; this added to the not infrequent lag of your VPN provider (China sometimes employs its army of hackers to attack VPN services), can cause serious slowdown. This can lead to a reluctance to upload photo albums onto Facebook, a learned unwillingness to share content.

4. The Chinese government is notorious for its paranoia and censorship, about topics like pollution, human rights, Tibet and Xinjiang. Foreigners know this. This can create a small but noticeable sense of paranoia, manifesting itself into a shadow of self-censorship when you comment or post on Facebook, and other social media.

5. The ubiquity of Facebook means a lack of effort for more traditional, more intimate forms of communication. A dearly addressed email or a Skype call can be easily foregone when you have the convenient blue hub of Facebook. (Handwritten letters and postcards would be even better, in this writer’s opinion).

6. It can be a serious distraction when you find a cafe that has WiFi with a built-in VPN as everyone logs on to those sites usually blocked.

7. The “Like” button is the most inane, shallow form of interaction ever conceived. (Apart from perhaps the now disappeared “poke” feature, also a Facebook creation).

8. As a tool for interacting with less close friends and acquaintances, Facebook is both great and terrible. It’s great for passively consuming other people’s news, but also terrible for instilling this sense of passively watching other people while not really engaging with them. Commenting on an acquaintance’s post can feel almost intrusive or embarrassing; a ridiculous feeling.

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A few of these complaints may not be specific to China

9. The way Facebook encourages a feeling of “tidying away” your messages. The way that Facebook messenger has been built — tiny little chat boxes that pop up at the bottom of the screen — makes it seem as if getting a message, from a friend or family member, is like a distraction; a blip that needs to be dismissed as soon as possible. More time spent on newsfeed, and less time spent on messaging, means more time for Facebook’s advertisers and data collection.

10. The tenth reason why using Facebook sucks, in China, is because you’re inadvertently encouraging Mark Zuckerberg to be obsequious to the Chinese leadership. The Facebook founder was widely criticized last year for his fawning behaviour to China’s president Xi Jinping, following his suggestion to his employees to read the Chinese leader’s book The Governance of China, so they “understand socialism with Chinese characteristics”. A US current affairs magazine noted at the time: “for the free publicity he is providing the Chinese leader, Zuckerbeg has been widely condemned on the Chinese internet“. Lately, he was seen to be trying to impress Xi by speaking to him in Mandarin when the Chinese leader visited America in September.

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Written by Lu-Hai Liang

October 15, 2015 at 5:35 am

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