Earlier this year, Facebook faced stiff opposition for its internet.org platform when Telecom Regulatory Authority of India first sought public comments while formulating its policy on net neutrality. Facebook then re-branded it to Free Basics, but little seems to have changed.
Citizen groups such as Savetheinternet.in have sprung into action once again to counter Facebook’s claims that its platform doesn’t violate the principles of free and fair internet access. So far, over 2 lakh emails have been sent to TRAI where citizens have voiced their concerns about Free Basics and have presumably opposed differential pricing of different services on the internet.
Facebook, meanwhile, has countered with its own campaign to muster support for its initiative and has allowed people to send an email to TRAI by sending them notifications of friends who have supported the platform already.
While some users reported being automatically made signatories to Facebook’s pitch even if they hovered on their campaign page, Facebook claims that its platform has been supported by over 3.2 million people from India already.
What it chose not to mention in its campaign, however, is that even a support of 3.2 million people for its platform makes for about 1% of India’s total online population and a mere 2.5% of Facebook’s 125 million-people-strong user base in India.
Facebook also commissioned its own survey where it gave a “broad” definition of the platform to 3000 odd people and claimed that 86% of the respondents supported the initiative. While it is hardly a surprise that a survey commissioned by an organisation has found support for its own venture, commentators have warned people against buying into Facebook’s arguments. For instance, investor and entrepreneur Mahesh Murthy wrote in The Wire that the company which “tried to silently slime this thing through last year” is trying to “con us Indians this year again”.
Murthy wrote that Facebook's numbers can't be trusted because people "were repeatedly shown a misleading petition by Facebook on top of their pages", they clicked yes and submitted the petition "without being told both sides of the story, and thinking they were doing something for a noble cause, and not to further Facebook’s business strategy. A large number of them, shocked at realizing what they were conned into doing have since said no."
He went on to explain his criticism of Facebook’s platform through this analogy:
An analogy is this: people need a balanced diet of proteins, fat, carbs, vitamins and minerals and the government has a distribution system called Sahakari Bhandars to get these to us. Facebook wants to use our government system to sell only its branded cocaine and nothing else, on special shops, to people who can’t access any other shop.
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