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After Pratfalls, Facebook Lobbies for in India -- On Facebook

To fight resistance to its service in India, Facebook is taking to the platform.


How does Facebook, the world’s most populous collection of people, bend arms in the world’s most populous democracy? On Facebook, of course.

Over the weekend, Facebook users in India started to see a notification in their feed promoting, the social network’s initiative to spread connectivity by subsidizing wireless data. “Do you want India to have free basic Internet services?” Facebook asked.

The social behemoth is on the defensive in India, its largest potential market. In February, it launched — a service designed to curb high telecom data costs, a large prohibitor of Internet use in emerging markets — in six states in India. It launched with one carrier partner, a tactic used to recruit telecom operators reticent of Facebook’s influence.

Yet the service was hit with a swift and surprising (for Facebook) backlash, as net activists in the country accused it of violating net neutrality. Some partners pulled out. The Indian government currently does not have rules on the books about net neutrality. But, in May, the Department of Telecommunications issued a report that said services such as that function as “gatekeepers” should be “actively discouraged.”

In response, Facebook bowed a bit. It opened its subsidized data platform from a select few app partners to anyone. When it launched in other countries after India, the service landed with multiple carriers involved. Part of Facebook’s concern, as Re/code reported earlier, is that the resistance it has met in India will set a precedent for the service’s reception in other huge markets, such as Indonesia and Brazil.

Now, it’s taking a charm offensive. On Monday, Facebook published a post unpacking what it called “Myths” from “Facts” about Its new effort recruits from its ample user base in India — which crossed 100 million last year — to preemptively show support from the program to officials.

A Facebook representative explained: “Our goal is to help give these people a voice with their government in sharing their support for programs like that help overcome barriers to connectivity in their country.”

The in-stream campaign does not give Indians many options to give a voice. Those that clicked, “Yes, I’m in,” were redirected to a landing page allowing them to send comments to Indian members of parliament with the hashtags #ConnectIndia and #ConnectTheWorld.

The other option Facebook gave users: “Not now.”

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