Confused by Facebook’s propaganda on Free Basics literally flooding every media platform? Your newspaper has been carrying it; you have seen it on TV; outdoor hoardings shouting at you; the internet is abuzz with it. And now, even your Facebook newsfeed keeps informing you about every friend of yours who is signing on to save the internet and feel like a proud warrior in the noble cause of bringing digital equality to millions of Indians with a mere click!
Now that TRAI has extended the deadline for its consultation to January 7, 2016, we thought it’s a good opportunity to get word out to even more people and help them make an informed decision and take a stand on, what could be, one of the defining moments of India’s digital future.
Well, before you indulge yourself in generously donating that one click to Facebook for its Free Basics platform and feel like you have done this nation a great service, it is important to try understanding if under the guise of digital equality, Facebook is peddling digital slavery by choosing what few favoured sites can be accessed by the first time users of internet in India?
If Facebook really wants to connect all the under privileged people to the internet, should it not do it by offering the entire spectrum of internet rather than some select partners it will choose on its own? Digital equality means that internet should be accessible to all at the same costs and not that Facebook’s controlled version of internet is accessible to people who have not even experienced its full potential yet. Digital equality also means that innovation should not be stifled simply because one’s website can’t make the cut because of technical guidelines decided by Facebook – which it can change at any time.
More than charity, it comes out to be a self serving propaganda as Facebook tries to control which sites would be accessible to people who are going on the internet for the first time. Or rather who will reach out to the people going on the internet for the first time. Or is it simply a means to sign on more users to compete with rival Google which makes more revenue even with the same no of users? Given that Facebook has reached saturation in developed markets, isn’t Free Basics simply a disguised effort to increase footprint in the unsaturated markets i.e. the developing nations. Beneath the garb of CSR, one needs to closely look at the digital discrimination being implemented slyly though the veil of Free Basics.
Facebook claims that it wants to lift a billion people in India out of poverty by bringing them online. Mark Zuckerberg recently published an op-ed in TOI, expressing concern about how supporters of Net Neutrality, i.e those who want equal access to internet for all, would rather have a billion unconnected people.