On October 30, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had a private luncheon with three Members of Parliament and a few industry leaders. At the luncheon, he spoke on net neutrality and how Internet.org was, irrespective of severe criticism, not against the core concept of Internet freedom. He appealed, like he did on Wednesday during his Townhall address to IIT-Delhi students, that Facebook’s Internet.org concept – now being peddled as Free Basics – “is a way of offering internet to the poor or those who don’t have internet for free”. He passionately argued that Free Basics does not violate net neutrality, but, on the contrary, empowers it.
Our Members of Parliament were reportedly bursting with excitement about Free Basics and were very receptive of the idea that Zuckerberg mounted on their backs.
Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar was so elated that he wrote an entire opinion piece
in praise of Zuckerberg’s version of net neutrality. He wrote that he was “gratified” when Zuckerberg said that changes had been made in its Free Basic strategy “based on what I had been saying”. Chandrasekhar is founder of Jupiter Capital and BPL Mobile. As expected, our MPs and other executives did not miss the moment to take a selfie with the 31-year-old billionaire. Another MP was Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brien. He did not pose for a selfie but was happy with a 10-minute interaction with Zuckerberg.
Practically, Zuckerberg came, he was given a platform to sell his wares, and leave. To his credit, he used this opportunity like a pro. In other words, the Facebook CEO is behaving like the Chinese, who promise cheap goods but hide the fact that the goods are not durable and, worse, could be dangerous.
No one in the audience at the Townhall asked any of the most significant questions
that could have put the Facebook CEO on the backfoot. It could be because the questions asked at the Townhall go through a screening process before they are put to Zuckerberg. Anyway, what he told the MPs is what he has been telling everyone ever since he presented the idea of Internet.org. What he is not telling anyone has been written eloquently on Save The Internet
He did not tell our MPs and business leaders that Facebook has a history of sharing data with NSA.
He did not say that his Free Basics will not help gain more Internet users in India but actually segregate them into two parts – those with it and those without it.
He did not reveal the fact that those opting to join his ‘world domination’ idea will have to pay a price – their own freedom. (They need to disclose everything about their businesses to Facebook.)
Most of those who are supporting Mark’s ambitious plan of providing “Internet access” to millions can be compared to those who praise calligraphy for its outward beauty but can’t read it.
In August 2013, Time magazine deputy Editor Alex Fitzpatrick dissected Zuckerberg’s ambitious project
along three critical lines. He wrote that internet access is important but not a right, it does not guarantee economic prosperity, and Zuckerberg’s idea should be called ‘Facebook for all’. All of the three arguments stand valid to this date.