Look Who’s Missing From Facebook’s Happy Map of World Friendship

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Sept. 24 2013 10:59 AM

Look Who’s Missing From Facebook’s Happy Map of World Friendship

FB friendship map

Last night, Mark Zuckerberg (or Mark Zuckerberg’s minions) uploaded a happy new cover photo depicting all the world’s Facebook friendships. The image shows whole continents lit up with connections and oceans bridged by electric blue arcs. Even remote island nations like Madagascar and French Polynesia are looped into the collective hum of humanity. There are some dark spots, like Russia, where Facebook is second to the social network Vkontakte, and parts of Africa, where Zuckerberg hopes to get more people online soon. But perhaps most notable is the large swath of darkness abutting India’s trapezoid of light—the notoriously anti-Facebook People’s Republic of China. 

For several years now, China has blocked Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and numerous other sites it deems sensitive or inflammatory, in part because of the role social media played in the 2009 Ürümqi Riots.

Of course, the nation of 513 million Internet users isn’t completely devoid of social media. China has a popular microblogging platform compared to Twitter called Weibo and several Facebook-like sites including Weixin and Renren.

And according to reports from the South China Morning Post just this morning, Facebook may even be getting a second chance, via a free trade zone in Shanghai:

“The recently approved Shanghai FTZ is slated to be a test bed for convertibility of China's yuan currency and further liberalization of interest rates, as well as reforms of foreign direct investment and taxation, the State Council, or cabinet, has said. The zone will be formally launched on September 29, the Securities Times reported earlier this month.”

But what foreigner would want to live in a free trade zone that doesn’t allow Facebook? Or so the logic goes, according to the anonymous government source.

Alas, even if the Shanghai FTZ rumors are true, Zuckerberg’s map is unlikely to light up the rest of China with Facebook blue anytime soon. Then again, if the Chinese government is worried about controlling its citizens’ access to certain websites, who knows what a foot in the door in Shanghai might trigger?

Future Tense is a partnership of Arizona State University, the New America Foundation, and Slate.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Jason Bittel serves up science for picky eaters on his website, BittelMeThis.com. He lives in Pittsburgh. Follow him on Twitter.