Media & Culture

Mark Zuckerberg

The internet mogul who taught himself Chinese.

Chairman, CEO and co-founder, Facebook

The world’s largest social network, worth around $375 billion, has been blocked in China for years. But that hasn’t stopped Zuckerberg from trying to gain access to the world’s largest internet market, even if it’s too late for Facebook to become a rival to dominant native networks like Weibo and WeChat. Zuckerberg has learned Chinese and kicked the tires on opening a small Beijing office to help Chinese companies post ads on the site. His eagerness has sometimes bordered on obsequiousness, as when he welcomed China’s internet czar to Facebook’s offices while displaying a copy of President Xi Jinping’s speeches, or asked Xi at a state dinner to give the unborn Zuckerberg child a Chinese name. In November, the New York Times reported that Facebook had internally developed software that would allow a third party to suppress posts in certain geographic areas; while there’s no evidence Facebook released the technology or offered it to China, it’s the kind of tool Beijing might require to permit the company entry.

The young billionaire — who as CEO of Facebook is required to try to fill his company’s coffers — has a fine line to walk. U.S. media and internet watchdogs will excoriate him if he ultimately succumbs to Chinese pressure to censor his creation. But the Chinese government holds the keys to its lucrative domestic market, and it has forced out U.S. internet companies before. How Zuckerberg threads that needle may become part of the playbook for how U.S. companies deal with a China that’s become increasingly confident in its model of what officials call “internet sovereignty."

(Photo credit: David Ramos/Getty Images)

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