[Ed - we apparently cannot emphasize enough the following: This article is a joke. It was published on April Fool's Day.]
[With April 1 now past, Tea Leaf Nation's editors would simply like to caution: please note the date of publication. We hope you had a lively April Fool's Day!]
The Chinese government announced that it will allow domestic users to access Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, while also lifting censorship controls on domestic social networks such as Sina Weibo. However, Chinese users will be required to pay a monthly subscription fee for the privilege.
This move may signify the crumbling of the Great Firewall of China, the system that currently prevents Chinese users from visiting many restricted sites overseas. China is one of only four countries in the world that restricts access to Facebook.
While there have been many false dawns before, including a visit by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to China in 2012, the Chinese government seems to be serious about allowing access this time, because it now stands to collect billions of dollars from eager users.
Miao Wei, the minister of Industry and Information Technology, stated at a press conference:
With the best interest of China’s 564 million Internet users at heart, we have devised a plan that would allow them to access certain foreign websites. If any user with a Chinese IP address accesses such websites, the relevant telecom operator would automatically deduct a flat fee of 100 RMB (about US$16) a month from the user’s account. We believe this fee is not onerous. It would help pay for the extra investment in patriotic education that would be required after the implementation of this plan.
The ingenious move to start charging Chinese users for free Internet services seems to be an expansion of the government’s plan that would require users to pay a fee for WeChat, a hitherto free mobile messaging service developed by China’s web giant Tencent. Tencent has repeatedly stated that it wants to keep WeChat free for its 300 million users, but the government has insisted on imposing fees in order to protect the voice and SMS business of China’s powerful state-owned telecom operators.
It’s also a chance for China’s censors to take a much-needed break. Domestic censorship requires constant monitoring of keywords and images deemed “sensitive” by authorities. Much of that work requires manual human labor, which can get repetitive. One Sina employee recently transferred from “content management” to marketing rejoiced: “If I had to log on one more day to delete the umpteenth Chairman Mao joke, I would have lost it.” Meanwhile, Fang Binxing, the much-maligned creator of China’s Great Firewall of censorship, recently admitted to official sources that he “found the whole thing exhausting.”
Miao also announced that anyone using Apple products, including iPhone, iPad and iMac, to access Facebook, Twitter and Youtube would be charged RMB200 per month. The move is believed to be a part of the Chinese government’s ongoing campaign to discredit Apple in China.
Happy April Fool’s Day from Tea Leaf Nation!