FB’s Free Basics isn’t about Bringing More People Online, it’s About Colonization
All people were aware about the Face book’s free internet initiative, which is according to many people, a new tool for face book to own internet. “Free basics is a face book program that gives access to a limited number of websites- including of course face book, free of charge in 37 developing countries (Smiley, 2016, p. 4). Their aim was to connect the entire world to internet. To exemplify, “For years, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO , has had a grander vision than just connecting more than one billion people who already use face book: he wants to connect the entire world” (Goel, 2016). Free basics targets a group of less developed countries or that have the poorest people in the world or Africa. It has been criticized in India for violating net neutrality. So is the free internet initiative constitutes a new form of colonization or simple a new model of economic democracy? Colonization is a process by which a central system of power dominates the surrounding land and its components. In this case,” free basics is a form of digital colonialism: a gift that then opens the door for a private, unregulated and pay-to-play internet controlled by Facebook — a single, powerful, US technology company” (Bowles, 2016). In fact, free basics is one of the colonization tools that face book uses.
First, face book is a social network that helps in connecting people through downloading posts and reacting to them. But what it offers by providing the free basics program? To begin with, free basics offers people no fee access of face book social network and other websites. Face book describes this program as a way to introduce the poor and the technology unskilled to the potential of internet. “By introducing people to the benefits of the internet through these websites, we hope to bring more people online and help them improve their lives” (Zuckerberg, 2016). They introduce this program and give policies and benefits that show how they are working only for the audiences’ benefit.
On monetization, the truth is that these policies can change at will and nothing stops them from showing ads in future and from using the traffic data from free basics for deriving other marketing insights. And of all the arguments, saying that a few million Indians are too poor to afford basic Internet access is a big distortion of facts whichever way you look at it. To make it clear, the internet access charges in India is one of the lowest in the world, so this program will not solve a problem. To explain, the problem with people who are not connected is that internet is very expensive, but free basics will not give them access to internet, but only to limited websites.
Face book makes this program, in my opinion, and in addition to the colonization, for its financial benefits. Growth of face book is dependent on constantly expanding their user base. To add, as the profiles increase, the data flowing to face book increase, thus increasing the financial benefits. To exemplify, imagine you open face book and don’t find any new posts or no accounts for friends and family. You will immediately deactivate your account and stop using face book. But if the issue is reversed, and you find many new things you will market this application or platform and profiles increase.
“The right to the internet is the right to choose what spaces and media we access; to choose spaces that enrich us — not what companies think should be our basics” (Shiva, 2015). So using free basics program will limit the choice of choosing while using internet. Free basics will provide access to few websites but what poor people should do to have their choice of choosing websites? So this program will increase the censorship of face book and government on what people must choose in internet.
Through the free basics program, face book introduces itself as the whole internet for the poor people. Also it can control what news is shown and to whom. To add, users can use the rest of applications other than face book without creating account for each, but they can’t use face book, the first selection between the applications, without creating an account. This confirm that free basics is created for face book benefits only.
In fact, and after explaining the several benefits for face book previously from the free basic program, the benefits are only for face book and there is no equal benefits for both face book and audience. This means that this program can’t reach the ideal goals as face book named them. To explain more I will name two roles of this program and criticize them.
First, face book said that free basics is the only solution for connecting the next billion of poor people in the world. Is this goal is true, so the results of free basics must show its truth. Face book don’t indicate a specific number, but according to a research done in “the independent” the number is 100 million only.
Here is an example of how they saw free basics program as the introduction for internet to the poor people.
Second, free basics give poor people the access for face book and few other websites, but does face book is the whole internet? Face book maybe has a big control in internet but it is not the internet. “The internet is a collection of many more websites, educational content, workshops, open software, off the shelves piece of codes all very useful and productive” (KASI, 2015).
To add, free basics has more than one experience since it was published in many countries. Between the countries, free basics offer its applications for English language only. “However, most services offered within the app were available in just one language. For example, while users in Kenya could choose an interface in either English or Kiswahili, nearly all of the services offered were in English only” (Advox, 2017, p. 14). Also this issue was faced in Philippines, Colombia, Ghana, and Kenya, where this makes a main barrier for people that don’t know English language have an access to free basics program.
After knowing how the benefits are gone for face book only, while the audience of this program have few benefits. It is obvious that this program is a new tool of colonization. Not only this, but also it is a new source of financial benefits for face book. I am not against face book or against equal connectivity, but face book can reach this goal by different way. “To those who argue that Facebook and Internet will bring opportunities/jobs, I just want to remind them that Facebook employs 13,000 people globally and less than 10 people in Africa” (KASI, 2015).
Advox, g. v. (2017). Six case studies on Facebook’s. In Advox, Free Basics in Real life (pp. 1–36).
Bowles, N. (2016). Facebook’s ‘colonial’ Free Basics reaches 25 million people — despite hiccups. The Guardian.
Goel, V. (2016). Fb loses a battle in India. New York Times.
KASI, I. (2015). 6 reasons you should be against Free Basics in Africa. KASI.
Shiva, V. (2015). Free Basics’ will take away more than our right to the internet. Medium.
Smiley, L. (2016). How India Pierced Facebook’s Free Internet. Backchannel, 1–24.