Facebook Attempts to Brand Itself as the Internet

by Matt Klassen on February 17, 2015

Over the last several years Facebook has managed to build an empire of data collection and advertising on the fact that most people in the world consider it the default social network (are there any others?). But with its recent Internet.org initiative Facebook is looking to move beyond merely the global social network to become the de facto portal to the Internet itself. In fact, anecdotal evidence already suggests that millions of people around the world already believe that Facebook is the Internet, as the social network serves as their only connecting point to the online world.

At first glance Facebook’s Internet.org project seems laudable, for as the company’s carpet-bomb marketing campaign will tell you, “The more we connect, the better it gets.” In fact, as the company’s marketing blitz implies, the world is better, small business is better, heck, people are better in all corners of the world when they can access the power of the Internet. People are able to share their passions, small businesses get to access a global market, and everyone gets to benefit from everyone else…sounds like a utopian paradise.

It’s this altruistic desire (and certainly not the wealth of information that could be sold to advertisers) that has motivated Mark Zuckerberg to undertake the task of connecting the next 5 billion, with him having long stated that his lifelong goal has never been to make money or establish an online empire, but to grow the Internet around the world.

Of course what Zuckerberg doesn’t mention right away is that the problem with Internet.org is that it doesn’t actually help anyone (except Zuckerberg of course) because it’s not actually free. Sure Facebook will deliver the Internet to the world, but unless the world is content to remain enslaved on Facebook and other preapproved partner sites, well they’re going to have to pay the social network for the privilege of online freedom.

At its heart Internet.org is an online gateway for the vast majority of the world that doesn’t own a smartphone, have a data plan, or have access to an advanced wireless network. As we’ve seen in its rollouts in India and certain African nations, Internet.org offers users free access to a select number of popular apps that offer news, weather, messaging and other such basic services, all on a feature phone with at least a 2G connection.

The ability to provide users with a data sipping online experience within the Facebook ecosystem is truly ingenious, as there will be an entire generation of mobile users who now consider the social network as their de facto entrance into the Internet, and if they don’t know anything else, they won’t have any desire to change, will they?

It’s a classic bait and switch, Facebook luring the unconnected billions in with promises of free Internet access on whatever feature phone they currently have, only to quietly slip them the social network’s own carefully constructed vision of the online world. With Internet.org users aren’t getting the Internet; they’re getting Facebook, except they’ll likely never know the difference. And for those who do wake from Facebook’s matrix-like enslavement and want to see the rest of the Internet, well the social network is hoping to convince them that paying Facebook for the privilege of seeing the rest is what everyone in the world does, and the sad thing is, people will believe it.

In the end Facebook’s Internet.org project is a perfect example of why the world needs strong Net Neutrality standards in place, to protect the naïve from online slavers like Facebook, who entice users with promises of free Internet, only to give them Facebook’s own carefully constructed version of the online world, forcing those who wish to venture beyond Facebook’s online walls to pay a hefty fee.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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