The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has found the Facebook campaign to drum up public support for Free Basics a “crudely majoritarian and orchestrated opinion poll”. The social media giant, which is pushing for a wider internet reach through zero rating on the Free Basics platform, finds itself censured by the regulator for asking users if they would sign up for an initiative that would send a template e-mail in their name, arguing the case for Free Basics in front of the regulator, in response to the consultation paper floated by the latter. Trai received 2.4 million comments on the paper, of which 1.8 million were from the Save Free basics campaign.
In all this, it is pertinent to remember that petitions and campaigns, by their very nature, depend on templates that are signed by supporters. In fact, the SaveTheInternet campaign, that was run earlier by the so-called ‘net neutrality’ camp, also used similar template e-mails. Widely used online petitioning platforms such as change.org also use similar methods—there is one template e-mail which is signed by supporters with their e-mail addresses appended. In the case of Save Free Basics, the only difference was that 1.8 million signed the same template individually and sent it to Trai—crude, yes, but just as “orchestrated” (or not) as the many petitions that regulators and courts and various other parties worldwide receive.