I wish for a world without internet.org

Mark Zuckerberg will never read this, but for the sake of my own sanity, I thought before starting 2016, I will write another few words about internet.org and what I think the 30 plus countries that jumped on the wagon should reconsider. After reading about an open-ed that Mark Z published after India pushed on the review of internet.org with his telecom partner, his main argument kept on circling around one thing “Internet access can help lift people out of poverty” – though this is true, the problem and the conflict with this argument is that internet.org doesn’t really provide people with internet as we know it, it provides people with selected services approved by Facebook and its telecom partner. Meaning, if someone in the heart of a faraway village in a republic X was for the first time able to access the internet via this service, this person will likely think that Facebook is internet, and analysts at Quartz also think that Millions of people already have a skewed perception of the web, believing Facebook to be the internet, a Quartz analysis has shown.

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The father of the internet Tim Berners-Lee, had this to say about the service, “Economic discrimination is just as harmful as technical discrimination, so [internet service providers] will still be able to pick winners and losers online.” I would really for a free access of all humans to the internet, but in the right way, and not with a one person controlled gate that determines who should pass through and who shouldn’t. You cannot help lift people out of poverty by reminding them that for being who the are they can only access x and y, it’s degrading to human being and should not be tolerated in the world that we live in today.

Another argument that Mark has pushed forward is the fact that, a lot of people who have tried the service have ended up subscribing for full service. Well, then, instead of providing this walled garden style, why not make that charity about providing a trial of the actual internet for a month or two and let those who decide it is possible for them to subscribe to then opt for a full service, or simply if that’s too hard, a better charity would actually be to help people pay for internet rather than giving them a cheap, slow and censored access to the internet. If I want to learn about health and all I get is one or two websites approved by Facebook, then by all means, I don’t see how this contributes to lifting me out of poverty or helping me in any ways. The mental and moral health of every human being reside in their ability to making their own choice about their lives, future and most of all knowledge development. This makes internet.org just one of those charity that says you can only have access to this if you’re of this or that religious belief, only in this case, Facebook is the church.

I am pissed that my country’s minister of ICT and Youth jumped on the wagon without taking in consideration the already fragile IT and Tech hub in Rwanda. If you want people to create great service that will compete on an international scale, you need to make sure they are free to choose and open to try tools and not banished to limited services that are being provided by internet.org. A minimalistic access to the internet is far from helping a people lift up themselves to greater achievement, because most will think like I urged above that Fcebook if the internet, and that only what Facebook shows you is what exists, and this is woefully wrong, and in time sir, you might come to realized that what you did, was a disservice rather than a help to provide access to the internet to your people. I praised your effort to drive buses around the country and let people have a daily access to the internet, they, poor or not, had access to the same internet that you and I have access to, and that’s open opportunity for all, that’s the right way charity should be done, and not via internet.org.

I have argued this over and over again, but I would like to close my thoughts with this quote from Naveen Patnaik, chief minister of the Indian state Odisha, has said: “If you dictate what the poor should get, you take away their rights to choose what they think is best for them.”  I believe that this is what internet.org is really doing, and this shouldn’t be the world we live in in 2016. So Mark Zuckerberg, if you truly want to do charity, there are many ways to do that without ripping off people’s dignity. A true giver, gives only something himself would use and enjoy, and so my question to you Mark, would you let your daughter use internet.org? The project still fragile and can be changed for the better, take the last two days of 2015 to think again, and for the sake of humanity, put yourself in the shoes of people you claim to be helping.

Like I said above, I don’t know if you will ever read this, but I really hope that 2016 will mark the end of internet.org and that a better way of providing access for all will take shape, either by you or someone else, all I don’t wish for is internet.org.

© Copyright Romeo Umulisa 2017