Silicon Valley venture capitalist and member of the Facebook board Marc Andreessen may have set out to point out the folly in India rejecting Free Basics—that would have helped bring the many unconnected millions in the country online—but how he did it on Twitter is a textbook example of how costly poorly-articulated support for a good cause can be. Andreessen likened India’s rejection to self-destructive “anti-colonialism” (he later deleted the tweet and apologised unreservedly). Almost immediately, the twitterverse was afire with condemnations not just from Indians, but from users from nations with a history of being colonised and colonising nations as well. Many said that the comment’s sub-text was that remaining a colony would have been good for India and that Andreessen believes “natives should learn to take help”.
Though one could argue too much is being read into a careless tweet, anti-Free Basics activists are already raging that Andreessen’s tweet exposes what Free Basics ‘really’ is—“Internet colonialism”. Even though this view is fundamentally flawed, given social media’s penchant for outrage, there is a fair chance that it could gain currency with many. Which is why Facebook founder and Free Basics champion Mark Zuckerberg did well to not just distance himself and the social media giant from the comment, but also to say that he found the comments “deeply upsetting”. Zuckerberg clarified Facebook stands for connecting people and helping them shape their own future, while maintaining that, for this, there is a need to “understand the past”. May be Andreessen could take a cue from him on how to keep the fight for Free Basics in India alive.