A different view over Facebook’s Internet.org initiative
Florian Monfort

Hey Florian! I agree with some of what you’re saying here, but to be fair, my article isn’t really about the substance of Internet.org and whether it’s good or not, it’s about the way it’s being sold. If Zuckerberg doesn’t want to be made the bad guy, then he shouldn’t be publishing op-eds in the Times of India that are full of logical fallacies, and he shouldn’t be pretending that this is a charity when it isn’t.

With regard to the library and school analogies, I simply cannot agree that the public/private distinction is a “very different” fact that isn’t relevant to the discussion. You can’t simply “take the idea step by step” and divorce the value of the services offered by a school or library from the fact that they’re publically owned, run, and overseen institutions, because the public ownership and oversight is part of that value. Part of the reason we all agree libraries providing SOME (but not all) information for free is that we know they work for us, and aren’t intentionally limiting our access to information to push an agenda. Part of the reason we all agree to schools providing SOME (but not all) information for free is that we know they work for us, and aren’t going to be shoving some third-party agenda down our kids’ throats.

When you take that public ownership and oversight away, it becomes a very different proposition, because some information isn’t always better than none. Some information can be used to paint a very misleading picture of the world in a way that none cannot. If I don’t have access to a library, I just don’t read many books, and my beliefs about the world are based on my own life, conversations, etc. But if I have access to a library then my views will be shaped by what I find there, which means that the people who *decide* what I find there can shape my views. If Exxon owns the library, I’m probably going to come out of it thinking climate change is a lie. If Fox News owns the library, I’m probably going to come out of it thinking that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are pure evil.

Now Facebook may not be currently implementing that kind of slant with Free Basics, but if it did, what recourse is there to correct that? How would its users, without access to the rest of the web, even know? These are important questions. Facebook may have good answers for them, but instead of being direct about it, Zuckerberg seems to prefer hiding behind this ridiculous idea that there’s no difference between a public and private library in the first place, and no reason people who support one shouldn’t support the other. That’s simply not true.

As I said in the article, I don’t fault Facebook for trying something. But I do fault Facebook and Zuckerberg for the dishonest way in which this solution has been presented pretty much from day one, and his TOI op-ed was simply too absurd not to address.

There are a lot of good arguments to be made in favor of Internet.org, but “it’s the same thing as schools” simply is not one of them.

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