The Free Basics program for Africa
One cannot argue that Facebook is the number one social media platform used around the world, beating other platforms such as YouTube, Instagram and Twitter, with having about 2 billion users (Kallas, 2017). Facebook has entered people’s computers and phones by a slogan such as “”Be Connected. Be Discovered. Be on Facebook.” A couple of years ago, the fact that there are still people in places such as Africa and India that don’t have internet access triggered Facebook to start an initiative called Internet.org or Free Basics. Under the pre-text of “bringing internet access and the benefits of connectivity to the portion of the world that doesn‘t have them,” according to the initiative’s website, Facebook in partnership with mobile companies gives people free access to the Internet on a condition that they access Facebook and specific other websites (Spillane, 2015). So far, the Free Basics program has reached more than 25 million people across 37 countries (Bowles, 2016). However, in India, even with a $45 million promotion, the Free Basics program was blocked because, according to BBC (2016), supporters of net neutrality including the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India believes that data providers should not favor specific online services over others. The Indian refusal formed a world-wide debate whether Facebook is creating a digital colonization by having full control over which apps and websites the users access. In one way or another, the Free Basics program can be considered as a digital colonization due to the too much control of what the users use, but at the same time, the program is an opportunity or chance for people in the developing countries to access the Internet, connect with others, and see what’s going around them.
No one can argue that behind Facebook’s slogans of connecting people lays business plans to gain money and profit, and any business person can see a huge fortune from Africa and India’s population. Facebook took advantage of the poor or absent Internet connection in these regions to introduce the Free Basics program that permits users to have free access to specific websites and applications through connecting to Facebook with the help of Facebook employees in offices, while accessing other sources should be paid for data usage. It is understandable of Facebook to seek to invest in such regions containing a huge population, as Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook’s vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, believes that Africa’s population carries the next billion users (Spillane, 2015).
The problem is that Facebook is obviously performing colonization and discrimination by first, limiting the access to certain websites and applications. Free Basics users can only access to a basic version of Facebook and other applications, and if they want the full version they must get data plans from wireless carriers cooperating with Facebook (Spillane, 2015). According to a case study done by Global Voices in 2017 on Facebook’s Internet “On Ramp” initiative from Africa, Asia and Latin America, the connection of the quality of the connection was also poor. This is a form of discrimination where people that pay can get full access with different services and languages while others cannot, and as digital experts rights experts say “poor internet for poor people,” according to Global Voices (2017), so the result is the same; more users and more money for Facebook and wireless carriers. This is illogical since most of the people that don’t have Internet that are going to use Free Basics can’t even afford to pay for wireless carriers and mobile companies. Program manager Renata Avila describes the colonization discrimination perfectly. “”The message is clear: We can’t create a two-tier Internet — one for the haves, and one for the have-nots,” says Avila (BBC, 2016).
Regardless of the form of digital colonization and discrimination Facebook is performing on Africa and tried to perform on India, it gave millions of poor people in developed countries the chance to encounter Internet and social media for the first time in their lives. Although some of these people might be not aware of the colonization and discrimination made against them, but we can in one way or another consider it a win-win situation with Facebook that has introduced them to something new that connects them to the world for free even though not fully connected.
Advox. (2017, July 27). Free Basics in Real Life. Advox Global Voices. Retrieved from https://advox.globalvoices.org/wp-content/.../FreeBasicsinRealLife_FINALJuly27.pdf
BBC. (2016, February 8). India blocks Zuckerberg’s free net app. BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-35522899
Bowles, N. (2016, April 13). Facebook’s ‘colonial’ Free Basics reaches 25 million people — despite hiccups. The Guardian. Retrieved from
Spillane, C. (2015, June 29). Facebook Opening Africa Office to Target Next Billion Users. Bloomberg Business. Retrieved from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/20150629/facebooksnextbillionlikesdependonanadveteraninafrica
Spillane, C. (2015, June 24). Facebook to Offer South African Cell C Users Free Web Access. Bloomberg Business. Retrieved from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/20150624/facebooktooffersouthafricancellcusersfreewebaccess