Is an aggressive Facebook turning Free Basics into a movement?

The Facebook Inc. logo is displayed on an Apple Inc. iPad Air in this arranged photograph in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Jan. 27, 2014. Facebook Inc. is expected to release earnings data on Jan. 29. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

After re-branding a couple of times, Facebook is now positioning it as a movement to capture user attention.

We spotted a few hoardings by Facebook in Mumbai that communicate the need for its consumers to support digital equality. As we’ve spoken earlier, ‘digital equality’ is nothing but, rechristened as Free Basics and now turned into a supposedly noble cause of connecting the citizens of the developing world. Although you can’t go wrong with it, Facebook has managed to do so with the manner in which the Free Basics message is being pushed aggressively.

Understandably, every business has an agenda of reaping a profit. But the difference is, the approach is usually direct and up front. You enter into an understanding based on what is being communicated to you as a consumer.

When Wikipedia sends a pop-up saying it’s in need of funds, it’s a move to keep it surviving. Unfortunately, with a ‘free’ offering, Facebook is essentially claiming to do good, when in reality it is creating a larger platform to reap in the unconnected millions. These millions are content with the base of Maslow’s order of hierarchy. Food, water, clothing, shelter, health, education and the more essential needs are of far greater priority for these millions than internet. We’re a long way before Wi-Fi features prominently in the list of fundamental needs.

In fact, it’s a welcome announcement that countries such as Finland have referred to 1 Mbps as a basic human right. It is estimated that 100 Mbps would be the next milestone that would be the de facto standard for the developing world. However, the more pressing need for emerging economies is to have access to a dependable infrastructure. Where is the internet infrastructure to connect the unconnected?

Wouldn’t it be impressive if users could access the internet through computers in their school? Aren’t there better things to do than to like a photo on Facebook?

The debate could go on and on. But the latest piece of communication by Facebook’s corporate machinery is to have people support the digital equality movement. By clicking on a button, an email is sent on behalf of the user to Trai expressing consent for a free package that prioritises the way the infrastructure processes applications and traffic accessed by that user. In simple turns, Now clearly that’s a bone of contention for users and activists alike.

Facebook Internet Equality

The email that is drafted by Facebook on your behalf reads:

To the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India,  I support digital equality for India. Free Basics provides free access to essential Internet services, such as communication, education, healthcare, employment, farming information and more. It helps those who can’t afford to pay for data, or who need a little help with getting started online. And it’s open to all people, developers and mobile networks. With 1 billion Indian people not yet connected, shutting down Free Basics would hurt our country’s most vulnerable people. I support Free Basics and digital equality for India. Thank you.

Twitter user Gaurav Singh tweeted out an image of a hoarding by Facebook near Bengaluru.

We’ve seen similar hoardings in Mumbai and heard of some in Delhi as well. Wouldn’t it be valuable if this spend went towards building affordable infrastructure instead of pushing for a barebones browsing experience?

Similar discussions have been centered around the kind of marketing spend by Facebook to push Free Basics.

In addition to the hoardings, Facebook is also spending on front page advertisements in prominent newspapers. So in case you have been invited to show your support for a ‘movement,’ you might want to take a closer look at the fine print.