Tag Archives: Social media

Desperate Facebook resorts to hooliganism

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Facebook through its ‘Free Basics’ has been so desperate that it resorts to hooliganism

Facebook, Social Media, Mark Zuckerberg, Net neutrality, Free basics, Indian  Internet Laws, TRAI, Track2Media ResearchFacebook as a medium of social networking platform has often been used for hooliganism and online bullying by the argumentative Indians. Ignorant rant, half baked perspective and cuss words are an accepted reality in a society where majority of the Indians don’t get a voice otherwise to vent out their frustration.

However, in an ironical twist of fate, it is the platform itself, Facebook that seems to resort to hooliganism against India once it lost its way to impose what it wanted the Indians to believe was free – ‘Free basics’. India’s telecom watchdog TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) found no merit in the case of Facebook to grant it what neutral observers found out to be internet monopoly. 

As a result, the desperate Facebook team got so irritated that it made an objectionable remark against India. Facebook Board Member Marc Andreessen termed India’s decision to bar discriminatory Internet tariff as an ‘anti-colonialist’ idea and said the country would have been better off if it remained under British rule.

Andreessen, one of Silicon Valley’s foremost venture capitalists, and his partner Benedict Evans took to Twitter to vent out their frustration about TRAI banning Facebook’s Free Basics and other such plans that charge different rates for Internet access based on content.

The move was hailed as a victory for net neutrality, the principle that all Internet websites should be equally accessible.

Andreessen, through his twitter handle @pmarca wrote: “Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades. Why stop now?”

“Another in a long line of economically suicidal decisions made by the Indian Government against its own citizens,” he tweeted. “Denying world’s poorest free partial Internet connectivity when today they have none, for ideological reasons, strikes me as morally wrong.”

His partner at the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, Evans, who uses the handle @BenedictEvans, chimed in: “It’s a terrible thing to offer people with no money the choice of something free.”

The comments drew sharp criticism from netizens with some calling Facebook’s Free Basics plan as Internet colonialism.

Sayeed Anjum responded to the tweet saying the subtext of Andreessen’s tweet is that “colonialism would any day be better economically. Natives should learn to take help.”

Another response read: “Now @facebook Board Director @pmarca suggests being colonized was good for India & we should’ve let Fb do so:).”

Netizen Gayatri Jayaraman tweeted: “yup @pmarca and @facebook clearly see themselves as the new East India Co colonial saviours to poor brown India.”

Facing flak, Andreessen removed the tweet. Later, he attempted to walk away from the discussion he fired up saying “I hereby withdraw from all future discussions of Indian economics or politics. Carry on.”

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg had also expressed disappointment, saying the decision restricts programmes of his and other organisations that provide free access to data.

Free Basics, being run by the world’s largest social networking company, drew major criticism from experts who alleged that it curbed one’s freedom to access the Internet of their choice.

Whatever be the pros and cons of ‘Free basics’ on which Facebook spent millions, it still has absolutely no rights to condemn the democratic status of a nation. Is Facebook the new colonial ruler? Track2Media team wonders…

Neither basic nor free; Facebook misleads India

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Internet, Free Basics, Net Neutrality, Facebook, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, YouTube, Google, Yahoo, Cyber World, Internet freedom, Social media, Track2Media ResearchFree Basics is a programme by the Facebook initiative internet.org to provide basic Internet services, like search, Wikipedia, health information and weather updates for free to all users.

The aforementioned initiative aims to bring basic connectivity by connecting one billion Indians to jobs, education and opportunities online and ultimately a better future, according to an advertisement released by Facebook.

Internet.org is a partnership between social networking services company Facebook and six other companies that plan to bring affordable access to selected internet services to less developed countries by increasing efficiency.

In India, Facebook has tied up with Reliance Communication for the initiative. It has been criticised for violating net neutrality and handpicking Internet services that it will include in their platform and for discriminating against other companies which will not be a part of it like, for example, Facebook’s rival companies.

Facebook defence

Mark Zuckerberg contends that Internet connectivity is a basic human right and remarks that connecting everyone is one of the fundamental challenges. Zuckerberg commented that his company aims to bring affordable connectivity to billions of the world’s poor, including Indians.

Facebook claims its Free Basics service is under the NDA government’s Digital India programme which aims at digitalising India in the context of digital equality in India. It claims to make internet accessible to more citizens by providing them access to a range of services like news, maternal health, travel, local jobs, sports, communication and local government information but all are piled up in a series of 25 websites, selected individually under no transparency by Facebook.

The Facebook CEO even got Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales to sign a declaration pledging their collective resource towards this goal.

Freedom in real sense

The basic premise of net neutrality is of freedom, an open Internet that protects and enables free communication. Anything that takes away this freedom violates the fundamentals of free Internet.

However, Facebook’s Free Basics is neither free nor basic irrespective of its claims that anyone can join the platform and it is not for selected audience.

Speaking from the consumer’s point of view, first we need to have a valid Reliance Communication SIM card and then we get access to only those websites that have collaborated with Facebook to be a part of the platform; although there is a provision that websites can apply for a license to be a part of the platform. In the end it is going to be Facebook’s call on who gets to participate.

To give an instance, it will be on Facebook’s recommendation and choice we will be allowed to gather information, news or education. On the contrary, the principle of net neutrality states we can access the entire Internet which is contrary to the Free Basics provision of limiting it to a certain number of accessible websites on the basis of payment.

In any democracy it is imperative to respect the choice of the citizens as far as consumption is involved. Regarding Free Basics it should be left to the consumer to decide what one wants to access.

We need to provide full Internet at prices people can afford, not privilege private platforms. This is where India’s regulatory system has to step in.

Facebook misleading with ads

The airwaves, the newspapers and even the online space are now saturated with a Rs. 100 crore campaign proclaiming that Internet connectivity for the Indian poor is a gift from Facebook which net neutrality fundamentalists are opposing.

In its campaign, Facebook is also using the generic phrase “free, basic Internet” interchangeably with “Free Basics”, the name it has given its private, proprietary platform. This is in blatant violation of Indian rules on advertising, which forbid generic words being used for brands and products.

This is from a company which, in spite of having 125 million Indian subscribers, refuses to be sued in India, claiming to be an American company and therefore outside the purview of Indian law. Nor does it pay any tax in India.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has stopped this service for now, pending its public consultation on the subject. Facebook’s campaign is essentially to influence the outcome of such a consultation.

Data compromise

By accepting the Silicon Valley model of private services, we pay the Internet monopolies with our data, which can then be monetised. Personal data is the currency of the Internet economy. Data as commodity is the oil of the 21st century.

Facebook and Google’s revenue model is based on monetising our personal data and selling it to advertisers. Facebook generates an estimated revenue of nearly $1 billion from its Indian subscribers, on which it pays no tax.

Free Basics is not free, basic Internet as its name appears to imply. It has a version of Facebook, and only a few other websites and services that are willing to partner Facebook’s proprietary platform.

Today, there are nearly 1 billion websites. If we consider that there are 3.5 billion users of the Internet, 1 out of 3.5 such users also offers content or services. The reason that the Internet has become such a powerful force for change in such a short time is precisely because anybody, anywhere, can connect to anybody else, not only to receive, but also to provide content. All that is required is that both sides have access to the Internet.

All this would stop if the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) or telecom companies are given the right to act as gatekeepers. This is what net neutrality is all about. No one should decide what part of the Internet or which websites we can access. This is what has made the Internet, as a platform, so different from other mass communications platforms such as radio and television.

India demographic dividend

While the Free Basics platform has connected only 15 million people in different parts of the world, in India, we have had 60 million people join the Internet using mobiles in the last 12 months alone. And this is in spite of the high cost of mobile data charges. There are 300 million mobile broadband users in the country, an increase fuelled by the falling price of smartphones.

In spite of this increase in connectivity, we have another 600 million mobile subscribers who need to be connected to the Internet. Instead of providing Facebook and its few partner websites and calling it “basic” Internet, we need to provide full Internet at prices that people can afford. This is where the regulatory system of the country has to step in.

The main barrier to Internet connectivity is the high cost of data services in the country. If we use purchasing power parity as a basis, India has expensive data services compared to most countries. That is the main barrier to Internet penetration. Till now, TRAI has not regulated data tariffs. It is time it addresses the high price of data in the country and not let such prices lead to a completely truncated Internet for the poor.

Danger ahead

The danger of privileging a private platform such as Free Basics over a public Internet is that it introduces a new kind of digital divide among the people. A large fraction of those who will join such platforms may come to believe that Facebook is indeed the Internet.

The British Empire was based on the control of the seas. Today, whoever controls the data oceans controls the global economy. Silicon Valley’s data grab is the new form of colonialism we are witnessing now.

Net neutrality is not an esoteric matter, the concern of only a few netizens. It is fundamental to the world, in which the Internet is a source of knowledge, a means of communication, an artery of commerce. Whoever controls access to the Internet will control our future. This is what the current battle over Facebook’s Free Basics is all about.

Social networking or online obsession?

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Social media, social networking, Online obsession, Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Track2Media Research“500 plus friends online….the person must be the loneliest creature on the planet”, said a journalist friend on the trend to be open networker and befriending those with whom one has never even met.  A very private person and open critic of sharing personal and professional life with unknown people online, he was out rightly dismissing the idea of social and professional networking online.

Well, I must admit that the argument has its merit even though I am myself glued to online communities for a large part of my personal and professional hours.

In an honest confession, I must admit that the networking forum like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter plays an influential role in my own social/networking life. I may pretend that I remain absolutely committed on a professional level, but the fact of the matter is that networking sites for me has happened like a deal with an open community. In my otherwise personal and professional life I have maintained a very strict admittance criteria for close friends and family only.

However, Facebook provides me a forum for trivial news share that I am always not very comfortable to discuss in an open forum. LinkedIn and Twitter has further helped me segregate such trivia from the more academic business exchanges I have contributed to, and profited from. Still the argument of my critic friend has forced me to introspect deep. Why??? May be because my growing sense of consciousness, backed by a few social research, has been telling me that the quality of relationships may actually be falling victim to the new-age networking tools.

Without knowing it, or at least without any conscious design, social media has also  transmitted loneliness and a sense of social disconnection. In recent years, virtual escapism has effected change in numerous social groups and has given birth to new streams of revenue. Technology has drawn us into our interconnected webs, in the office, on the street, on the park bench, to the point that we exist virtually everywhere except in the physical world.

The quality time spent with friends and peer professionals is gradually getting less and we are subconsciously becoming a victim of internet obsession. Internet and its online communities are by its clinical nature cutting down the more fallible nature of human discourse: emotion, innuendo, political sniping. It lends a more objective, less risk-laden and therefore, I suppose, innocuous form of discussion. It’s an ideal channel for those wishing to avoid the intricacies of complex humanity and family ties.

Relationships, both personal and professional, are hard work. Just because someone retweeted your post doesn’t mean you have a workable relationship with that follower. In order to nurture and sustain a viable connection with someone, you must have personal contact that not only reinforces what you are doing but who you are as a person and a professional. Social Media removes you from personal interaction with other people subsequently reinforcing social ineptitude.

Being a student of Freudian school of human emotions, I have always been interested in human presence and reaction and know from experience that reading faces, listening to tone beyond words and pure personal chemistry form the most powerful basis for collaborative and gratifying relationships. I must admit that such a holistic dialogue process cannot be sustained by networking sites alone.

The realization grew deeper in me be the mere phone call of a close friend, whom I have not seen for a long while. An admittedly internet addict in me suddenly felt an emotional chord by the vocal conversation and it gave me the realization of how much I value human interaction; and more importantly, of how much of it was moving away as our collective addiction to online community intensified.

While the online community is, and will remain an important aspect of today’s global networking, I have taken a conscious decision that I will never escape my nature. I’m a humanist, a communicator. Words, expression, nuance have always been the make-up of my character as well as the tools of my trade. Some where the modern day communication had created a widening gap between the conscious and subconscious mind, and it was the physical presence of a journalist friend, a one-to-one discussion that goaded me to bridge this ever widening gap.

I do hope that my peer group who swear by the online reputation management will not consider my conscious decision as an indictment of my proclaimed aptitude thus far. After all, I am not shutting down all the modern day dialogue channels, just trying to be more social on the parameters other than the social media.

By: Ravi Sinha