New Orleans The old saying is that “pride cometh before a fall,” and sometimes pure arrogance continues to be glaringly obvious even after a fall. It will be interesting to see if Facebook learns anything from its disastrous mishandling of internet access and politics in India or the whipping that India just gave them. The bottom line is that the Indian government was able to see through the Trojan horse strategy around Facebook’s claims for its expansion in the country that would advance their commercial interests and provide them control over internet access. Methinks the company doth protest too much, but it’s busted, so hopefully they will cop a plea and walk the line in the future.
Here’s the backstory though. Facebook over the last year rolled out a service, shrewdly named and packaged as Facebook Free Basics in India, just as they have been doing in Africa. Their claim is free access to a limited number of websites that channel internet through Facebook’s servers for technical reasons. They marketed the service through the huge India-based conglomerate Reliance. They claim that they brought 1 million people onto the internet for the first time, which sounds like a lot at first blush, but not so much when you realize that 100 million Indians came online for the first time in 2015, making Facebook a small drop in a big bucket.
The Indian regulator brought Facebook down to size and, importantly, protected “net neutrality,” which Facebook claims to support at least in the United States, by ruling that free services are illegal when they favor any content by waiving mobile fees. In doing so they joined other countries that have banned “zero rating” of content including the Netherlands, Slovenia, and Chile. The slippery way Facebook was back-dooring their business and claiming they were do-gooders while doing the opposite lies in the fact that they would have had the sole decision making ability on any additional services gaining access through Free Basics and its slower bandwidth.
Who did they think they were fooling? As the Software Freedom Law Center told The Wall Street Journal, “Once you create walled gardens that raise barriers of entry, anybody capable of getting into agreements like Free Basics are in a competitive sense the only companies that can be online.” A self-interested Facebook board member seemed to argue that maybe colonialism would be better in India than allowing the country to make these kind of bonehead decisions, prompting outrage from Indians, and forcing Facebook to disavow his comments and muscle him into making an apology.
An apology is simply something coming from the moving parts of the mouth, not a change in mindset, and that is clearly the problem with Facebook’s arrogance. Mark Zuckerberg is developing a happen of claiming something is charity, while making sure he and/or his company grip everything with an iron fist.
The only place the charge of colonialism sticks is on Facebook itself and the way it has handled and set up this program and its sly efforts at global dominance of the internet in developing countries in the guise of charity. India has called them out, and other countries need to follow. Facebook needs to change its tune or hear the chants of protest not only in developing countries but throughout the world.