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Zuckerberg Aims to Set Things Right With India

By Richard Adhikari
Feb 12, 2016 11:27 AM PT

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday went into damage-control mode following a tweet from board member Marc Andreessen about India and colonialism.

Andreessen was reacting to the Indian telecom regulator's ban on Facebook's Free Basics service.

"Another in a long line of economically suicidal decisions made by the Indian government against its own citizens," he reportedly tweeted. "Denying world's poorest free partial Internet connectivity when today they have none, for ideological reasons, strikes me as morally wrong."

Indian entrepreneur Vivek Chachra reportedly tweeted in response that the Free Basics argument that some Internet is better than no Internet sounded like a "justification of Internet colonialism."

"Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades. Why stop now?" Andreessen's replied.

Zuckerberg disavowed Andreessen's comment on anti-colonialism, which has been deleted.

"I found the comments deeply upsetting, and they do not represent the way Facebook or I think at all," he said.

Zuckerberg Hearts India

India "has been personally important to me and Facebook," Zuckerberg continued, adding he was "inspired by the humanity, spirit and values of the people" when he traveled to the country.

"It solidified my understanding that, when all people have the power to share their experiences, the entire world will make progress," he said. "I've gained a deeper appreciation for the need to understand India's history and culture" and "I look forward to strengthening my connection to the country."

The situation is "kind of interesting in that it pits Zuckerberg, who is truly a leader in Facebook, against Andreessen, who trades on the perception of similar success but has actually been more of a secret failure," observed Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

Facebook has withdrawn Free Basics from India.

Zuckerberg "is moving to protect Facebook and needs to do so, but that doesn't mean he isn't sincere," Enderle told TechNewsWorld. "The two things don't have to be mutually exclusive."

It "would be a good thing for [Zuckerberg] to state an official position for Facebook," said Mike Jude, program manager, Stratecast/Frost & Sullivan.

"His response sounds sincere," he told TechNewsWorld.

Loose Lips Sink Company Ships

Zuckerberg wants to bring the Internet to the entire planet by 2020. Just how badly the controversy will impact those plans remains to be seen.

"This did hurt Facebook's image a lot," Enderle said. "Board members, like children, should be seen and not heard, and this issue shows why this is the case."

"One expects a certain level of cultural sensitivity," Jude said. "This sort of thing can't help."

However, if Facebook "takes steps to engage culturally with India and proves that it's really trying to be sensitive to its new market, this could be good for them," he added, "especially if it leads to better behavior in other markets."

What Else Facebook Could Do

Andreessen's comments make it look "like Facebook has ulterior motives" for seeking to link up the planet, "not so much because of what Andreessen actually said but what others are reading into it," Enderle remarked.

Facebook should ask him to step down, "if only as an example to others that this behavior is not tolerated," as not doing so "suggests the statement is acceptable in private and casts a shadow of dishonesty over the office of the CEO," he added.

However, "people do make mistakes, and especially now that Facebook has disavowed his actions," asking him to step down "is probably not necessary," Jude said.

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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