Updated at 4:15 p.m. ET with Facebook’s response.
Marc Andreessen, venture capitalist and Facebook board member, took to Twitter to defend the social media company’s Free Basics service–and encountered quite a few detractors after an offensive tweet. Potentially one billion detractors, to be exact.
proposed its Free Basics program, dubbed Internet.org, was designed to give people, especially in developing countries, some Internet services at no charge by partnering with local mobile carriers. The idea was met with fierce criticism in India and beyond as many claimed that the service violated net neutrality by not treating all content as equal. Indian regulators took the argument to heart and banned the practice of zero rating, meaning mobile carriers can’t charge for a data plan but then exempt some services from counting toward the data limit.
Andreessen felt that the decision by Indian regulators was not just wrong but morally wrong, and tweeted such.
And that began Andreessen’s Twitter tirade, which took a turn toward colonialism when he went on to suggest that India’s rejection of Facebook’s “help” would only end up hurting the nation in response to a follower’s challenge that his argument “sounds like justification for Internet colonialism.”
“Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades. Why stop now?” Andreessen tweeted in response, though the Tweet has since been deleted.
That set off a Twitter
backlash, and also revealed why Facebook’s Free Basics program never gained widespread support in India. The program relied on a tech corporation, i.e. Facebook, picking what services local people need. Essentially, Facebook would hand-pick the winning Indian Internet services.
Andreessen quickly realized his gaffe and tweeted out a series of apologies.
He then signed off for the night, waking up this morning to offer yet another apology to all of India: “I apologize for any offense caused by my earlier tweet about Indian history and politics,” Andreessen wrote. “I admire India and the Indian people enormously.”
A Facebook spokesperson for Internet.org released a statement Wednesday afternoon, saying that the company “strongly rejects the sentiments expressed by Marc Andreessen last night regarding India.”