Last week we noted that India had shut down Facebook’s Free Basics program, arguing the company’s plan for zero rating Facebook-approved content and services is effectively glorified collusion; an attempt to eventually corner global ad markets under the banner of altruism. The country has been trying to craft net neutrality rules, and has slowly realized that whatever neutrality looks like, Facebook deciding what content Indians get access to isn’t it.
Obviously this has annoyed Facebook, which, under the international lobbying leadership of former FCC boss Kevin Martin (historically tone deaf to the nuances of net neutrality here in the States), has consistently tried to shame critics of the program as extremists and enemies of the poor. That narrative continued this week, with Facebook running ads in Indian newspapers claiming that Facebook’s walled garden had miraculously helped the nation’s farmers improve their crop yield:
This was accompanied by an editorial in Indian newspapers by Mark Zuckerberg, also promoting the amazing strides made by “Ganesh the farmer”:
“A few months ago I learned about a farmer in Maharashtra called Ganesh. Last year Ganesh started using Free Basics. He found weather information to prepare for monsoon season. He looked up commodity prices to get better deals. Now Ganesh is investing in new crops and livestock. Critics of free basic internet services should remember that everything we’re doing is about serving people like Ganesh. This isn’t about Facebook’s commercial interests – there aren’t even any ads in the version of Facebook in Free Basics.
It’s the aggressive pretense that Facebook’s engaged in pure altruism that has made the company’s efforts so obnoxious to many, including a growing legion of Internet activists in India. Many are smart enough to realize that once Facebook is entrenched as the gatekeeper to content, it will be entrenched as the cornerstone of developing nation ad markets. So yes, while there’s no ads embedded now in Free Basics, it’s obvious that there eventually will be. And as companies like Mozilla have argued, if Facebook is so in love with the helping Indian farmers like Ganesh, why not help fund access to the actual Internet?
Facebook’s no stranger to net neutrality, having had a front row (albeit largely apathetic) seat to similar debates in countless countries, including the States. Yet Zuckerberg pretends to be shocked that anybody could possibly oppose a plan that doesn’t provide access to the full power of the Internet:
“Who could possibly be against this? Surprisingly, over the last year there’s been a big debate about this in India. Instead of wanting to give people access to some basic internet services for free, critics of the program continue to spread false claims – even if that means leaving behind a billion people. Instead of recognizing the fact that Free Basics is opening up the whole internet, they continue to claim – falsely – that this will make the internet more like a walled garden.
Except a walled garden is exactly what Facebook is building.…