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Dear Mark Zuckerberg, India Doesn't Need You To Play Messiah

11/08/2015 8:12 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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CHANDAN KHANNA via Getty Images
US chairman and chief executive of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg gestures as he announces the Internet.org Innovation Challenge in India in New Delhi on October 9, 2014. Zuckerberg is attending a two-day Internet.org summit which will discuss ways to make internet access available to people who cannot afford it globally. AFP PHOTO / CHANDAN KHANNA (Photo credit should read Chandan Khanna/AFP/Getty Images)

We love you for a number of reasons. Not the least of which is you helping us stay connected to our ridiculously large extended families, reminding us of birthdays of forgotten old aunts and giving us a place to share unlimited recipes of our namkeens and gulab jamuns. Our socially savvy government loves you too. And why shouldn't we all love you? Facebook has pretty much revolutionised the world. From toppling regimes to sparking revolts, from elections to protests, there are few things that have happened in the world where Facebook has not played a role in shaping opinions, in venting anger, in creating hopes for a better reality. Honestly Facebook wields unimaginable amount of power. It is not an exaggeration to call Facebook the neo superpower, along with Google and Twitter, and you the billionaire superhero wielding this power.

But there is a problem with superheroes. You are driven by the overpowering urge to do social good, to feed hungry children, to help women in distress, to transition into a messiah. And we the country of over a billion people with heart-warming stories of missing children saved from trafficking thanks to Facebook gives you the perfect platform.

"[Y]ou have these heart-wrenching appeals posted all over your Internet.org page asking deprived, voiceless Indians to get on the World Wide Web and experience a brave, new world."

The young, hungry India can be a great launch pad for your Internet.org which of course is a revolutionary idea born out of the characteristic altruism of a superhero turned messiah. Behind this are your ideas of connecting hungry children in Africa to their more fortunate Kelloggs-fed American counterparts and jointly solving the problems of world hunger. Imagine the possibilities in a country like India. Chameli Mausi and Sukha Bhai and little Ram with the running nose, living in unnavigable villages, will all be introduced to the powers of the internet thanks to quaint hot-air balloons with possibly your smiling face painted on. (No that is ridiculous. You are not Kim Jong-un). So you have these heart-wrenching appeals posted all over your Internet.org page asking deprived, voiceless Indians to get on the World Wide Web and experience a brave, new world.

The only problem is it will not be the World Wide Web, it will be your internet.org, which you launched with your equally rich, powerful and altruistic partners: Ericsson, MediaTek, Nokia, Opera, Qualcomm and Samsung. And we know that there is a big difference. Internet.org is a collection of apps and services hand-picked by you and your partners for Sukha Bhai and Chameli Mausi and little Ram. You decide that they do not watch YouTube, not use Google, never access Wikileaks. Of course they will have Facebook and services you think are fit for them. You will show them a walled garden with the key firmly in your hand. And you will argue you are doing this for the greater good. We do not doubt your intentions but we are horrified by the implications.

No other Mark gets a shot at creating a Facebook because your walled garden will pre-empt players who cannot pay. No other Assange or Snowden or our less famous RTI activists get a chance to tell the world what's wrong with it because your screened zone may have to screen out government-unfriendly sites so that you can get Internet.org past hostile leaders.

"Your argument that it is a service to people who can't afford connectivity underestimates the intelligence of a thriving democracy where the poorest are not expected to compromise on their right to choose in lieu of favours."

Your argument that it is a service to people who can't afford connectivity underestimates the intelligence of a thriving democracy where the poorest are not expected to compromise on their right to choose in lieu of favours. Internet.org creates an economic apartheid in the world's most democratic medium -- the internet. It is on a dangerous mission to shape choices, opinions and decisions by selectively excluding sources that do not conform to your world-view of Utopia.

Honestly Mark, we deserve better. We did not protest while you took our data to tell us which tooth-paste we should use. But your new plaything does not stop at our tooth pastes or soaps. It wants to program our minds, all under the pretext of heart-felt charity. Hear it from me Mark, we can do without the charity. Even while we tether on the edge of the internet revolution with about 20% penetration. We know that revolution is not safe in your wonderland. So stay the baby-faced superhero, Mark. We do not need another messiah.

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