Facebook in Africa: A new form of colonization?

Facebook Inc.’s free Internet initiative is a new way for less experienced Internet users in 37 undeveloped countries and more such as Africa, India and Mexico, to access around 30 websites regarding news, jobs and healthcare, without charging for data. It’s all about having the basic rights the weak governments of these undeveloped countries that aren’t able to present to the populations yet, thus giving people their “Free Basics” online services. These basic online services are considered to be as required and irreplaceable as having shelter, social security and education. And unfortunately, 1.1 billion people worldwide don’t have access to basic Internet services. The aim od this discussion is to prove that Facebook.Inc.’s national goal takes part of modern colonization. The reasons will be discussed along the lines of studies and their results concerning the launching of Mark Zuckerberg’s new ideas in various poor countries, where we will see why it worked in Africa but not in India.

Free Basics was created in 2014 by Mark Zuckerberg’s, founder of Facebook, to work with all sorts of developers and entrepreneurs to help online connectivity throughout the globe locally. The special infrastructure was aimed to be placed in different regions such as the following countries: India, Philippines, Ghana, Mexico, Pakistan, Colombia, and Kenya.

Moreover, after several studies were made after the initialization of “free Basics” in these countries, researchers have found that the project succeeded in Africa but had failed in India for instance.

On one hand, for the case in Africa it succeeded for the following reasons, which will be discussed. Africa has a population of 1 billion people, yet only 120 million have Internet access. For the simple reason that consumers cannot afford the cost of data nor could afford the cost of smartphones that can handle Facebook’s full application. Which is why this project called Internet.Org was created in the first place. The results concerning the growth % for Internet users in two African countries, Ghana and Kenya, escalated 12% to 113% for Ghana’s population, and for Kenya’s population it went from 39% to 65%. It allowed users to visit Facebook and dozen other handpicked websites as a package at a lower cost. Followed by the introduction of Facebook Lite, “missed call ads” that helped consumers reach promotions, then came the launching of new smartphones for this specific targeted class of the population. On top of that, South Africa, the third largest wireless carrier, got free web access through the launching of Cell C Phones which has free data access to the Facebook application’s full version for two months before changes in the data cost.“It’s a method for users who want to try out free basic services on the Internet, they can do it without any cost and then they can basically move up the ladder to paid services, We want to take away the fear of use. Less than half of the population is connected.” Makelainen said at Cell C’s Johannesburg headquarters.

However, on the other hand, came India’s failed case. Studies have shown that India’s population was very skeptical about Mark Zuckerberg’s project in creating “digital equality” around 2015–2016. Advertisements aimed to push the campaign of “free basics” were all over the country: double-pages magazine ads, in newspapers, on billboards ect., portraying the Indian population as ignorant, helpless and dumbed down. People were turned off by the campaigns, which was estimated at $44 million. The targeted people realized that Facebook only allowed them to surf websites pre-approved by Facebook itself and that the main aim of. To add to that, a year after Free Basic’s launching in India, telecom regulators controlled Facebook’s Indian telecom partner in order to cease the universally rollout to gain control of the pricing policies and change them one day. Language was a problem. If Free Basic’s aim was in reality for the good of the Indian population, publishers writing on the offered sites were meant to take into consideration that some groups such as elderly people and the rural will not understand English and would need to have a right to comprehend what is offered to them in this package respectively in indigenous languages. Lastly, allowing foreign business and worldwide corporations take over the Indian market, abolishes the small native business, which is illegal, thus a monopoly taking over is part of today’s colonization. “But there are certain rules necessary to operate, so India doesn’t become a digital colony” “Let anyone in the world come and operate in this market” said Sharad Sharma, cofounder of iSPIRT.

It is obvious that Facebook sees undeveloped countries as opportunities of exploitation by selling the people ideas of freedom, having the right and opportunity to gain “Free Basics”, where in reality it is modern colonization taking place right under people’s noses: it’s basically pots-renaissance cultural exploitation of foreign population and minority groups in a discreet capitalist economic system.

Simply due to the fact that these populations are not aware of the goals behind the scenes of advertisements on the streets and all over the place, also due to the lack of awareness concerning the low costs created to then turn them into lifetime consumers who will reach the point where one will no longer care about how high the prices will go, again due to the fact that people have access to handpicked websites which are not even among the 15 most visited and important web platforms in the world of Internet along side the lack of languages available which is the least Facebook could offer if they think of “helping” foreign countries, and It goes on, people are not aware that the SIM card offered for the use of “Free Basics” can be tracked and used as consumer data, therefore lack of privacy becomes a scary problem. “Increasingly marketers are focused on what is the next frontier, There’s going to be an incredible opportunity to develop a consumer base in Africa.” said Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s vice president of global marketing. No wonder 457 companies signed a letter slamming “Free Basics”, where more than 800 founders put their names on it. We can conclude that Africa is a victim to the modern colonization by Facebook, whereas India definitely was not.

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