China’s Great Firewall and Limitations to Social Media

For the last five months, I have been studying and living in Hong Kong among the tall buildings and the big crowds of people.

As amazing as the city was to me, I spent most of my time studying and learning about China, and I also had time to visit the interesting and diverse country.

However, starting as an Intern here with the entire company working with social media has made me think about the conditions in China, and I have realised that an agency like Mindjumpers could never exist in the country. Here, I will explain to you why I think it’s like that.

Local sites substitute Facebook, Twitter etc.
The social media channels like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Google that we use every day and take for granted are all banned in China. Of course China is not living in the Stone Age and local sites controlled and monitored by the Government such as Baidu, a search engine, and Renren, social networking site, make tons of money supplying the Chinese people with Facebook and YouTube-like sites. The Chinese are able to chat, find love and blog like the rest of us as long as they don’t write anything that might seem threatening or inappropriate to the Government – but that is a lot!

You might think that as long as the Chinese people have access to social media and have the same possibilities as us, everything is fine. But that is far from always the case, though.

Where social media could have played a great role
Under the early stages of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic, the Chinese Government span the news as a rumour and later on as something they already had brought under control. Citizens in the affected areas knew it was not the case, but couldn’t do anything to warn other parts of the country. As a result of the Chinese Government’s approach of denying, the virus had three months to evolve from an easily controllable disease to a dangerous epidemic before the Government acknowledged the importance.

Incidents like this makes it ethically very wrong for global social media companies to operate under the Chinese rules. Google had to give up the huge Chinese market, because it refused to collaborate with the Government and make search words like “freedom of speech” and “human rights” unavailable to the Chinese users. Other companies like Yahoo have decided to bent its ethical codes and obey the Government’s rules to exploit the huge market potential China offers.

The Chinese people that don’t want to settle with the domestic counterparts can with luck and money use proxy-sites that work as virtual private networks, VPNs. But for me, it’s very difficult to imagine how a country can supress its people and get away with it – and why the Government would want to do it at all. The answer goes way back in time and for as long as the Chinese people can remember they have been supressed by their rulers.

What is going to happen?
I wonder what the future brings and whether the conditions will change in China at all. Will Facebook close its deal with the Government and obey the rules and regulations – or will the outside and inside pressure for change be the final straw that breaks the camel’s back? I guess we’ll have to see. Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Get Ready for the Bots – on Facebook Messenger

2Facebook Messenger was released 5 years ago and now has over 900 million users. Originally receiving a flood of negativity towards a standalone messaging app, compared to one simple Facebook app, users seem to be warming to it. The decision to make it standalone does make a lot of sense, since messaging is a big part of people’s lives nowadays and Facebook even bought the domain messenger.com to launch a version for web browsers last year. Their 900 million users will more than likely be merged with Whatsapp’s 1 billion users, which means that Facebook will have the personal phone number of every single user – sounds like $19 billion well spent.

 

Open for Business

So that’s humans covered. Where to go next? Facebook is now venturing into their next Messenger-based project: bots. If you haven’t been keeping up, Facebook launched Messenger Platform last month, which holds within it, chatterbots. Luckily, these bots are not machine learning bots, such as the disaster that was Microsoft’s Tay. They do have some humorous replies if provoked but they ultimately steer the conversation back to the subject they’re designed to cater for. Thanks to their highly advanced Send/Receive API, these bots are able to reply with actual structured messages, including links, images, hotel reservations, the weather etc. You may immediately compare this to Apple Siri, Microsoft Cortana, Google Now and Amazon Echo, but what sets bots on Messenger apart is the fact that businesses can develop them, which in turn gives them another way to develop customer service. Simply put, bots could end up changing the world by replacing humans in such job sectors. Without the bespoke customer service integration that Messenger bots provide, the above voice-activated services will most likely not be able to solve business-related queries themselves. Having said that, the way bots behave is very reminiscent of the way Siri does. Maybe they’ll talk to each other one day and we’ll get the best of both.

 

Customer Service and Added Value

So how can these bots work for brands? Well, eventually, every major company in the world will have an account, which will be a first port of call when contacting their company. The reason this is almost definite is due to Facebook’s already-mammoth-sized network of users. It doesn’t get any bigger than Facebook when advertising to individual people, so connecting Messenger bots (as customer sales reps, for example) is extremely attractive. Messenger codes, one of many things taken from Snapchat, will also make it easier for businesses to connect with their customers. One industry example is how bots will almost certainly change how banking works for the consumer, replacing an app or web-based system with a dialogue with a machine that is able to understand your every need. The option to send money within Messenger itself is highly likely too, like Snapchat allows. This could also eliminate the hassle of speaking to a bank’s voice recognition system when calling by telephone – no more time (and money) wasted by the dreaded “I didn’t catch that. Please try again.” These voice recognition systems are essentially bots done badly, but they’re based on voice, which is a lot more difficult to translate into zeros and ones. Plus, you cannot autocorrect your voice (yet). I can see this whole system being replaced by bots – it could even connect you to a human advisor with ease, as you’re most likely already using your phone. Even if you’re using the desktop version or Facebook Chat, I’m sure they’ll figure something out. Besides banks, what other markets will benefit from this? Restaurants, travel and possibly supermarkets with online shopping services are big industries for it to thrive. The healthcare industry could also be a large portion – Healthtap have already created their bot, which isn’t surprising considering one of the first ever chatterbots was called DOCTOR and simulated a psychotherapist. In fact, the potential amount of markets are endless for this stream of interaction – just like it is with human customer service.

 

At the end of the day, customers are moving towards messaging as their preferred choice of customer service. And as generations progress, it will no doubt become the standard – a phone call will most likely be reserved for long, meaningful conversations with friends and family, which in turn will add even more meaning to them. The phone call will no longer be taken for granted, but talking to robots will be.