View: Iran Asks Facebook To "Unlike" Porn | ValueWalk

Iran Asks Facebook To "Unlike" Porn | ValueWalk

What is being described as a semi-official Iranian News Agency, has revealed that Iranian Law enforcement officials hope to work with Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) in order to fight pornography availability in the country. Facebook’s history in Iran, and many other authoritarian states, has been quite fraught in recent years.

The report cited General Kamal Hadianfar, the head of Iran’s internet censorship efforts, as the source of a plan that would see Facebook pages promoting pornography and prostitution, authored by Iranians, removed from the web site. The General suggested that the plan was made possible by the cooperation of the Menlo Park firm, but did on expand on the particulars.

Facebook, like many web heavy hitters, has had a nuanced relationship with countries led by authoritarian regimes since the firm began to roll its services out across the globe. The web site is stilled banned in China, and was shut down in Iran amidst riots in 2009.

This news may be the first time that officials in Menlo Park are hearing about the censorship, or it may not. It is still unclear exactly what the nature of the company’s complicity in this action is, if there is truly any at all.

It does, however, raise some of the old questions facing global internet businesses. Issues surrounding cultural sensitivity, a websites responsibility for user generated content, and free speech have to be balanced with business acumen, and a realization that these companies are there to serve shareholders and make money.

In dealing with China, Facebook chose to grow outside of the country’s borders, and avoid those difficult questions. Iran, a nation more vilified by Americans, may form a new struggle for the firm. What they do to deal with it might form a large part of the company’s strategy for the foreseeable future.

Many of the emerging markets are marshaled by authoritarian regimes. Some, such as China and Russia, have their own, home grown successful social networks, which are eating up the prospective user base that Facebook wants to grow into.

Complying with local authorities, at the expense of important American principles, is a surefire way for a company to make money in the short run. Facebook, in this, has a lot to learn from its major rival Google.

Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) tried and failed to comply with the byzantine ad hoc regulations pushed on it in China. The weight of protest from home, owing to the suppression of free speech the firm was involved in, among other concerns, led to their departure from full scale Chinese operations.

Their space in the market is now taken up by Chinese competitors. Some, like Ali Baba, form a sort of direct competition at home. Ali Baba is owned by Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO).

Free speech is important to Americans. When one of the highest profile firms in the country goes abroad they are, like it or not, seen as ambassadors of American values. Deviation from those values is met with consternation and upset.

This report out of Iran will most likely come to nothing. It is unconfirmed, and even if it is entirely true, the obfuscating nature of Iran’s media and their leaders will make any follow up on the story unlikely.

That does not dilute the potency of the questions the news asks, however. Facebook needs, if it has not already, to build a strong and consistent policy to deal with these questions. Such a policy would allow it to grow in a sustainable way in authoritarian countries, while buffering themselves against a backlash at home. Without a firm line on these issues, the company is left vulnerable.


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