Zero for Zuckerberg at IIT Delhi by Javed Anwer

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is on a mission. Almost an evangelical mission, to connect the world's poor to the internet. At least, that is what he says. But the reality is more nuanced, layered and complex.

It is this complexity that leads many to question his mission and ask what is there in it for him. Is it really web connectivity that he wants for the poor? Or is it that he wants people to connect to the services that he deems "essential"? Is it because the web is a powerful tool that he wants people to connect to it? Or is it because Facebook, which relies on serving ads to as many people as it can, knows that its user numbers can now only grow when the poor of the world have some way to connect to the web?

But on Tuesday, as Zuckerberg held his first Townhall meeting in India, he didn't take any of these questions. Instead, he talked about Candy Crush invites and how opposition to his internet.org aka Free Basics is unwarranted.

There has to be a debate on whether the opposition to something like Free Basics, which clearly flouts the norms of net neutrality - Zuckerberg on Tuesday claimed it doesn't - is unwarranted or not. Until now, Zuckerberg has avoided talking about it in a forum where anyone can ask any question. This is despite the fact that someone as influential as Tim Berners-Lee, who also happens to be the person who created the world wide web or WWW and then gave it away for free, has unequivocally said that zero rating data plans or something like Facebook's Free Basics should not be allowed because it harms the open nature of the web.

On Tuesday, even as Zuckerberg in his missionary zeal declared that people without internet can't sign online petitions - an obvious dig at the campaign run by SaveTheInternet.In in support for net neutrality - he didn't take any hard questions.

Every question sent his way was reportedly pre-screened. Also, though the media was invited to attend the event, journalists were not allowed to ask any questions.

Zuckerberg once again pushed his agenda of how the poor needed to come online so that they could communicate (read share photos on Facebook and like cat videos shared on the social media site).

He also told the audience that India is important for Facebook, because according to him, the world is poorer when millions of people here aren't using the internet. What he left unsaid was that without these millions of internet users in India, the growth of Facebook itself is going to be slow. The only other country that can propel Facebook's numbers is China, where the service is blocked.

Zuckerberg also said the Free Basics wasn't discriminatory and that Facebook was not going to filter any content.

But both assertions run counter to the terms and conditions laid out in Free Basics. Townhall meetings are supposed to be informal meetings in which people can ask whatever questions they have in their minds and clear their doubts. But Zuckerberg's Townhall meetings have been extraordinarily micro-managed with the audience carefully screened and softball questions prepared in advance. For a Townhall meeting, Zuckerberg's IIT-Delhi meet deserves zero rating! more  

Every corporation need politicians' support to give up their basic rights. What Zuckerberg is doing is nothing new. Pepsi has already done it. more  
Forget villages. .........known villages of so called Delhi have JJ Colonies on garbage dumps and free flowing drains. more  
Garib ke khane Ko roti nahi. ......Manmohan distributes laptops. .........Zuckerberg sells Facebook to poor in India. .......MEA gives grants worth crores to underdeveloped nations.
Have they spent half to develop our villages one by one........India would have the best in world. ........but interestingly truth is bitter. more  
Agre jaded's viewpoint. This visit is nothing but a marketing strategy because India would be largest Facebook user base and time wasters too because Facebook is addiction and a great time waster specially for youth. more  
I pity people who take and antagonistic stand even before things materialize. I think their only motive is to claim smartness and to be able to say 'Didn't I say so' if things actually go wrong at some point of time. Lets support Free Basic. Let's support Zuckerberg. more  
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