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India

India To Zuckerberg: We Don't Believe Facebook's Big PR Lie

Anti-colonialism's echo: India balks at Mark Zuckerberg's plans of offering free but limited Internet access, which is ultimately aimed at boosting Facebooks' numbers. Will the rest of the world follow?

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in New Delhi in 2014
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in New Delhi in 2014
Johannes Boie

-OpEd-

MUNICH — Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has big ambitions for India: to connect the digitally undersupplied South Asian subcontinent to the Internet. In December, he touted his plans in an article in The Times of India, arguing that connecting to the Internet means connecting to the job market, to education, to health care and communication. In order for India to further develop economically, a billion people would have to be connected to the Internet.

Yet when Mark Zuckerberg speaks of "the Internet," he's speaking of nothing but Facebook.

His article is written proof of the big PR lie that Zuckerberg has been hocking for years, from one country to the next. In reality, Zuckerberg never planned on connecting billion of Indians to the Internet, as he claims in his article. Zuckerberg wants to connect them with Facebook, at all costs. And secretly, he hoped, he could pull that off without anyone noticing. He made a point of calling his project "internet.org" — and not "facebook.org."

The young billionaire has spared neither time, money nor energy to try to achieve his goal. He invited users to write letters to the Indian authority pleading to support him. Facebook paid millions of dollars for advertising in India. And last September, Zuckerberg welcomed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Facebook headquarters in California. After all, there are already 40, often even poorer, countries that have accepted Zuckerberg's gift of access to Facebook, which, obviously, doesn't require any access to the Internet.

Users are clients

But India has balked at Facebook's request, with the national telecom regulator ordering Reliance Communication Ltd., Facebook's local business partner, to halt the free service in the name of "net neutrality."

Net neutrality means, broadly speaking, that any type of content online — videos, images, advertising, journalism, the offer of a startup as well as a big corporation's like Facebook — needs to be able to reach users the same way, without additional costs or time, and without requiring a special service. The U.S. too has adopted similar guidelines on net neutrality, aiming essentially to create equal conditions for all Internet users.

Zuckerberg's initiative, on the other hand, envisages allowing the user access to only Facebook and a handful of other selected websites. Many in India saw this as colonial-type behavior.

No wonder that alongside the skepticism of government authorities, a popular movement against Facebook's plans in India has emerged. Universities as well as CEOs are publishing protest letters. Indian companies are supporting each other on the site "SaveTheInternet.in," while Indian newscasts regularly report on net neutrality.

The Californian company is largely deaf to the protests, and keeps repeating that the program is about creating jobs, providing education and expanding communication. It is true, after all, that somebody has to connect the rural areas of India to the Internet, and the sooner the better.

Zuck's war

India's authorities saw through Facebook's rhetoric, which happened to be missing some important facts: A billion Indians on Facebook would be a major new market for Facebook, whose growth is flattening in the U.S. and Europe. Because new users also means new data from one billion people for Facebook, there is more money to be made on advertising.

So it is clearly very profitable for Facebook to "bring the Internet," including to far away places in the Indian countryside, even if Zuckerberg is trying to make a mark as a humanitarian. So India's rejection of the public relations and lobbying of the American social network is a major global affair.

Economists say that services like Facebook's "internet.org" harm the economy in the medium to long term, because the newly connected people can surf on Facebook, but not on the sites of small startups, for instance. It is not surprising that startup founders in India were some of the most vehement opponents of the plans.

By denying Zuckerberg's offer, India could become a role model for other emerging nations. But you can bet that Facebook won't give up so quickly on its Indian ambitions — too much is at stake.

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Geopolitics

The Trudeau-Modi Row Reveals Growing Right-Wing Bent Of India's Diaspora

Western governments will not be oblivious to the growing right-wing activism among the diaspora and the efforts of the BJP and Narendra Modi's government to harness that energy for political support and stave off criticism of India.

The Trudeau-Modi Row Reveals Growing Right-Wing Bent Of India's Diaspora

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 Summit in New Delhi on Sept. 9

Sushil Aaron

-Analysis-

NEW DELHI — Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has brought Narendra Modi’s exuberant post-G20 atmospherics to a halt by alleging in parliament that agents of the Indian government were involved in the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, a Canadian national, in June this year.

“Any involvement of a foreign government in the killing of a Canadian citizen on Canadian soil is an unacceptable violation of our sovereignty,” Trudeau said. The Canadian foreign ministry subsequently expelled an Indian diplomat, who was identified as the head of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), India’s foreign intelligence agency, in Canada. [On Thursday, India retaliated through its visa processing center in Canada, which suspended services until further notice over “operational reasons.”]

Trudeau’s announcement was immediately picked up by the international media and generated quite a ripple across social media. This is big because the Canadians have accused the Indian government – not any private vigilante group or organisation – of murder in a foreign land.

Trudeau and Canadian state services seem to have taken this as seriously as the UK did when the Russian émigré Alexander Litvinenko was killed, allegedly on orders of the Kremlin. It is extraordinarily rare for a Western democracy to expel a diplomat from another democracy on these grounds.

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