Twitter CEO visiting China, but won't change ways to target market

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo is visiting China to learn about its tech market

Twitter may be blocked in China, but that isn't stopping its CEO Dick Costolo from visiting the country this week to learn more about the nation's tech market.

Nor is the company planning to bend its rules to enter the Chinese market, where the government strictly censors the Internet.

"We have no plans to change anything about our service in order to enter the market," Twitter's spokesman said via email on Monday.

Costolo is coming to the country "to learn more about the Chinese culture and the country's thriving technology sector," he said.

China has long blocked Twitter and other foreign social networking websites as a way to silence anti-government views. Domestic social networking sites, like Sina Weibo, have risen to fill the void. But to legally operate in the country, the sites regularly self-censor by deleting posts, or shutting down user accounts. In some cases, Chinese police have even detained local users for allegedly fabricating online rumors.

Despite the censorship, U.S. Internet companies are still showing interest in China and its over 600 million netizens. Last month, professional social networking site LinkedIn opened its Chinese language site after years of exploring the nation's market.

Like Twitter, LinkedIn also supports free speech. But in starting its new Chinese language site, the company decided to comply with the nation's demands on censorship, stating that more could be gained by helping the nation's users connect to new economic opportunities.

The window, however, is closing for U.S. Internet companies wanting to expand into China, according to analysts. Sina Weibo, which works like Twitter, is just one among many local social networking services in the country with an established following. In Sina Weibo's case, the service has been operating in China for years and attracts 129 million monthly active users.

On Friday, Sina Weibo filed for an initial public offering in the U.S., with the aim of raising US$500 million.

Twitter has shown itself willing to abide by local laws in certain cases. It introduced in 2012 the ability to "reactively withhold" content from user feeds in a specific country, while keeping it available in other countries. It said it was introducing the facility as countries differ in their perceptions of freedom of expression. But the tweets would be withheld only "when required to do so in response to what we believe to be a valid and applicable legal request." Withheld tweets are also clearly identified.

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