Oh, Zuck off: Facebook under attack for its attacks on net neutrality

Snippy open letter to US giant over Free Basics in India

A group of 30 non-profits and net neutrality advocates have posted a snippy open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg complaining about his "attacks" on Indian internet users.

Last month, the social media giant's Free Basics program, which provides free access to specific internet websites and services, was paused in India after the Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) said it was reviewing it on net neutrality grounds. Soon after, the same program was frozen in Egypt.

Facebook has responded by taking out full-page ads in newspapers, urging its users to sign a petition to the TRAI, and Zuckerberg put his name to an editorial in the Times of India in which he argued "India must choose facts over fiction."

And it is that campaign that the 30 advocacy groups – only five of which are based in India – have taken exception to.

"We are concerned about Facebook's recent attacks on the millions of internet users in India and around the world who have fought, and who continue to fight, for Net Neutrality," the open letter reads. "Facebook is encouraging its users to take action against Net Neutrality rules and protections being considered by the Regulatory Authority of India."

We're not small

In particular it is upset at The Zuck's argument that only "a small, vocal group of critics" is behind the complaints. We're not a small, vocal group, complains the small, vocal group. "The group of people supporting Net Neutrality is not small, and it vocally advocates for the digital equality Facebook claims to support. It includes more than a million Indian users, elected political representatives, development workers, respected platform providers, and technology leaders."

Facebook's PR campaign is an "insult to millions in the fast-growing global community that care about safeguarding the open internet," according to the letter. Worse, Facebook is encouraging the really bad people – telcos – to behave worse. "Facebook's actions embolden telecommunications carriers in their broader efforts to stop Net Neutrality protections from being passed across the world – particularly in emerging nations and elsewhere in the Global South – by creating the false impression that there is a grassroots movement opposed to Net Neutrality."

The letter complains that Facebook's recent ads contain stats and arguments "that lack proper sourcing and that rely on straw man arguments," and it complains that the entire program "risks exacerbating digital inequality." Then there's something about a "paradigm," but it is official Reg policy not to read any sentence that includes the word "paradigm," so we can't tell you what it says.

In conclusion, the groups "ask that Facebook meaningfully and respectfully engages with ordinary users, activists and advocates without engaging in unfounded and divisive attacks" – like the one they just launched into. ®

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