Mark Zuckerberg had changed his profile picture with Digital India support tool, but some allege that the tool will be used to show support for Internet.org, Facebook’s controversial zero-rating app.
If you look at your Facebook feed right now, it’s likely that you will see some profile pictures with the tri-colour on them and the hashtag #DigitalIndia in the caption.
For those of you who are wondering where it started, Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook changed his own profile picture to Indian colors to support Prime Minister Modi’s campaign called “Digital India”. If you are still wondering why some people are opposing such a great move that celebrates an Indian campaign, remember Internet.org?
It was Facebook’s new platform that would make Internet access available to the poorest of people in developing countries, making sure “everybody” is online! What a fine and noble cause! But if you look at the service closely, what it really does is expose those who have never seen the Internet to Facebook and other companies (who signed up to be on Internet.org) and ask them to pay if they want to see the rest.
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While digital activists are doing their best to tell you how Facebook’s new platform creates walled gardens on the Internet, how it makes the Internet like a real world – with countries and borders and restrictions and permits to access every corner of the Internet world – and you may never know how big it is entirely. Equating Facebook with the idea of a Digital India poses a bigger threat. A Facebook spokesperson, however, has denied any connection between Digital India and Internet.org.
Although old fashioned colonialism with guns and tanks may no longer be in vogue, new logics of world domination and exploitation continue to propagate especially through the brands and associated ideas that we consume.
For instance, try and recollect the time you were taught Computer Science in school where computer software meant Windows, you learned to draw with MS Paint and learned typing in MS Word. In short Microsoft became synonymous to e-literacy for generations of Indians depriving them of the benefits and values of the Free and Open Source Software community.
Similarly, in many Latin American and African countries, the ambitious but severely problematic MIT project ‘OLPC’ (One Laptop Per Child) was sold in the form of cheap laptops to respective governments and pushed down the throat of thousands of children and teachers in a bid to ‘develop’ the poor and needy from developing nations. Techno-imperialism as in the case of Microsoft, OLPC or Facebook, is sometimes a benevolent and sometimes a profit oriented enterprise under which organizations and individuals of developed countries set out to improve the lives of the poor and needy through quick and glamorous schemes, sometimes marketed as ICT4D (Information and Communication Technologies for Development). It operates with the fundamental understanding that the ‘other’, the poor, the underdeveloped, mostly in the Global South of the world (countries like India, Brazil etc) need saving by the (often white male) hackers and entrepreneurs who promise to deliver us a glorious future as soon as we ‘like’ a page, use a tablet, download their app or whatever they are selling.
What is ironic, however, is that while Zuckerberg supports the #DigitalIndia campaign and wants to bring poor Indian farmers to Facebook, his company outsources the work of content moderation – reporting nude pictures, offensive images, text and pornography to Indian, Mexican, Turkish and Filipino workers who get paid $4/hour (half of minimum wage in the US). The same poor villagers that Mr Zuckerberg wants to uplift in Africa and Asia are also surrounded by 10 million tonnes of American electronic waste – broken toys, tablets, dismantled laptops – everything that constitutes the dream of a future Digital India.
As news reports may already tell you, Internet providers in Indonesia, Colombia and other countries are reporting that users can’t even tell if they can access all of the Internet or just some parts of it. The important lesson to learn with the expanding reach of tech giants like Facebook and Google is that they don’t make the world flat. Although Facebook is the biggest country in the world now (yes, it has more people than China!), not every user is equal on it. In such a scenario, those millions who reside outside Europe and North America and are yet to access the Internet must be brought online on their terms, as equal users, and not tier II beneficiaries of Facebook’s conditional access charity scheme. Otherwise digitization will only reproduce the inequalities of class, gender and race that we seek to erase by giving unlimited information to everyone.
– Views expressed by the author are personal