In case you missed it, Facebook unveiled an impossibly grandiose and impeccably choreographed initiative to take over the world.
There was a white paper[i], announcing the ambitious scope. Among other things, it talked about the lack of social and credit infrastructure in many developing countries and the inherent unfairness of it all.
“I’m focused on this because I believe it is one of the greatest challenges of our generation. The unfair economic reality is that those already on Facebook have way more money than the rest of the world combined…”
Facebook’s solution was a global partnership effort, spearheaded by it, but supported by dozens of influential partner organisations. To distance the initiative from itself, Facebook launched it as a new “.org”, the top-level domain used most commonly by nonprofits.
“At Facebook, we typically take an open approach to solving these problems. […] Working with our partners, we’ve put together a rough vision for what we believe is possible and a rough plan to work together as an industry to get there. I say “rough plan” because, like most long term technology projects, we expect the details to evolve. It may be possible to achieve more than we lay out here, but it may also be more challenging than we predict. The specific technical work will evolve as people contribute better ideas, and we welcome all feedback on how to improve this.”
If things go according to plan, the result would be a win-win for everyone.
“If we get this right, then it will be possible to enable the most people to get on the internet while also sustainably generating the most profits for the industry.”
The white paper was followed up with ad imagery of people from developing countries in Asia and Africa using smartphones to empower themselves with Facebook’s help. And mock screenshots of what features the world could hope to see.
Then, in February 2016, India banned Facebook’s Internet.org (later renamed Free Basics) as it enacted the world’s clearest guidelines for Net Neutrality[ii].
We’re sorry for the stunt we just pulled on you, but it pales in comparison to the scope of Facebook’s latest stunt—Libra.org—the foundation to create a global supercurrency called Libra. It’s Internet.org all over again, but smarter, more ambitious and with more dangerous ramifications.
But just like in February 2016 when India stopped Facebook’s Internet.org initiative, Facebook, in 2020 (which is when Libra is expected to launch), is likely to run into an Indian wall again. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, is likely to find his ambitions for India run counter to those of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the man who sat next to him and addressed a town hall-style event at his own headquarters in 2015.
In 2016, when India banned Facebook’s Internet.org, Narendra Modi was just in the second year of his first term.