Internet.org is awful, but there isn’t a lot we can do

Credit: Momo Lin

Wow! A whole lot of hate has been thrown at Mark Zuckerberg recently — both from media skeptics and other generally educated people. And while I’ve been painfully trying to play devil’s advocate toward some of the Facebook-related issues out there, I really just can’t with this one.

Zuckerberg’s Internet.org project, powered by Facebook, aims to bring the Internet to parts of the world that don’t have access. This means that an assortment of Middle Eastern and African countries will have access to basic, pre-determined Internet services: a saddeningly small selection of websites (yes, of course Facebook tops the list!) which will broaden these citizens’ minds and further connect the world. Sounds like a real utopia, right? A real marketing utopia, that is.

The ambitious project, deemed “The Fake Internet” by media rights organizations both foreign and domestic, has elicited harsh criticism over net neutrality by activists who proclaim a two-tiered Internet system under the corporation’s frightening leer.

Pakistan, say ‘hello’ to your new can of American worms: insecure websites, barred innovation, loss of free digital expression, and a complete lack of privacy. Facebook hasn’t ‘liberated’ you, it has invaded you.

So what are we going to do about it? Unfortunately, not much.

The social network has endured criticism from all forms of communication, and yet it keeps on truckin’.

Watching Facebook slither its way into Africa takes me back to the months I was working with SFU’s Media Democracy Project, an organization aiming to help ‘democratize’ our news media. As I scanned headlines on human rights in order to post weekly news roundups, I found I was reading — how should I put it? — a whole lot of ‘bark’ but not too much ‘bite.’

While activists from large-scale organizations against a variety of corporate causes were setting the awareness bar high, not a lot was being accomplished. This isn’t to say that activists are failures, or that the issues addressed weren’t important (they all are!). I just found that campaigns against large companies like Facebook only settled into a mish-mash of anger, resentment, and exasperation, while corporate entities continued to invade IP addresses and squeeze out ignorant dollars.

The unfortunate truth is that Facebook simply has too much power and influence; campaigns like OpenMedia can encourage people to sign petition forms, but in reality it will only result inasmuch as a scab on this corporate monster, whose claws already seep into one third of the world’s veins. The social network has endured public criticism through all forms of communication, yet it keeps on truckin’.

In this case, the only real choice is to sit back and watch Facebook brainwash an oblivious 65 per cent of Nigerians into thinking that “Facebook is the Internet,” and thwart Indians with the amazing possibilities that only a suffocated list of factually incorrect Wikipedia articles can bring. Zuckerberg will continue to pounce on this incredible marketing opportunity, widening the digital divide, taking advantage of those who don’t yet understand how their data will be used, and violating the principles of an open web.

I’m not here to demean the relentless work of interest groups or human rights organizations — I love them and am blissfully proud of their achievements — but folks, the truth may hurt: Facebook could be too big for you.

1 COMMENT

  1. The author is a new addition to the group of people with wrong sense of entitlement. Come on, they are paying for the access and the users get it for free. Expecting a fully open FREE Internet is very wrong. Maybe you are from a western country where there are a lot of these folks roaming around living on welfare even if they are able to work. No wonder western countries are economically failing… their citizens have gotten serious entitlement issues.