Facebook’s Free Internet Initiative. A new form of colonization or economic democracy?

Facebook is one of the most used social media platforms, also one of the first platforms that introduced the world of social media. People all around the world have a Facebook account, but not all are able to have access, because of the region they live in and the availability such region has to offer. For such a reason, Facebook has decided to add on a billion plus users to its platform by launching a new initiative Internet.org; also known as Free Basic. Free Basics’ main goal was to provide affordable data, access to several websites and Facebook of course, to countries such as Ghana, Kenya, India, Mexico and Pakistan. The plan worked in several regions, specifically Africa, yet India saw it as a negative. India did not seem to agree due to seeing it as a threat to net neutrality (Backchannel, 2016, p. 6). When India fought back Facebook, many others started to see it as a form colonialism, which is “the policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically” (Google Definitions). My opinion on this issue comes in a half half opinion, I agree to a certain extent with India’s actions since Free Basics is controlling and limiting its users usage and freedom on the internet. On the other hand, Facebook and other social media platforms are becoming a necessity in our daily lives.

Facebooks’ goal is to connect everyone around the globe and “not just some of us” as they state on their page, yet not everyone around the globe has access and this is the motivation behind Internet.org or also known as Free Basic. Facebook has went through lengths to connect the under developed countries to the rest of the globe, and those lengths include Facebook partnering up with multiple mobile companies to provide free access to basic websites. Such initiative could be seen as a marketing scheme, because the websites provided are too basic and limited in topics, such as healthcare and jobs, the user will have to subscribe to a data plan in order to be enabled a wide range of websites and a better version of the Facebook application. An example for a marketing scheme are Cell C users, the Cell C Facebook marketing strategy is as follows, if you are a user of Cell C you will receive two months of free access to the full version of the Facebook application, then it will downgrade to a plane platform unless you pay for a data plan (Spillane, 2015).

Looking back at Facebook’s main goal, it seems harmless because we live in the 21st century, a century where the online world is becoming more important than the real world. Digital Equality is never wrong, yet the way Facebook seems to be doing it with usage of Free Basic seems very controlling and limited. Yet, Facebook defended themselves from such allegations, especially when it came to India. They took a chance and defended themselves with Billboards and newspaper ads that promoted the idea of “Digital Equality” (Backchannel, 2016) yet; these efforts went to waste due to net neutrality. Net neutrality is a basically a known as a “principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favoring or blocking particular products or websites” (Google Definitions), which is obviously the complete opposite of Free Basics/Internet.org. Free Basics, in short, limits and forces users to only use the websites that are provided free unless they pay for a data plan, which is the problem in the first place. Data is already expensive in the countries that Free Basics are targeting so basically the issue is just going around in circles and is a whole marketing scheme hiding behind a somewhat of a good cause. Several regions had different experiences with Free Basic. Free Basic, as mentioned previously, is targeted at countries and regions such as Ghana, Kenya, India, Mexico and Pakistan. A case study that was made this year (2017), Free Basics in Real Life, provides details on the different experiences the regions listed had. For example, in Pakistan the connection was horrible to the extent where the application itself asked users to run it on Wi-Fi, while in Columbia and and Mexico it was the complete opposite.

In conclusion, Facebook means good intentions and wants to connect everyone around the globe without leaving the under developed behind, yet the way they do it makes them look like they are doing it for the money and profit gain. They way Facebook approached the manner with the restrictions and limitations of Free Basics did give off a somewhat colonialism approach.

References

Advox. (2017, July 27). Free Basics in Real Life. Advox Global Voices. Retrieved from https://advox.globalvoices.org/wp-content/.../FreeBasicsinRealLife_FINALJuly27.pdf

Backchannel. (2016, February 2). How India Pierced Facebook’s Free Internet Program. Medium. Retrieved from https://medium.com/backchannel/how­india­pierced­facebook­s­free­internet­program­6ae3f9ffd1b4#.66h5946ip

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