“Your urging has the flavour of reducing this meaningful constructive exercise designed to produce informed decisions into a crudely majoritarian and orchestrated opinion poll.” This isn’t a school headmaster admonishing an errant student. It’s TRAI letting Facebook know what it thought of its Free Basics poll that generated 9 million responses.
Facebook had been running an expensive campaign over the later part of last year to have its Free Basics service be allowed in India. It has included billboards, tv adverts, and most controversially, an online email campaign that it hosted on its site. Facebook users were urged to send a templated response to TRAI declaring their support for Free Basics in the country. But now it seems that the 9 million emails that Facebook managed to gather have come to naught.
In a letter sent to Facebook, India’s telecom governing body let the company know that its collected emails would count for little when it made a decision on the future of Free Basics in India. Deeming the online campaign unnecessary, TRAI said that “Neither the spirit nor the letter of a consultative process warrants such an interpretation, which if accepted, has dangerous ramifications for policy making in India”.
TRAI also raised questions on whether the users who’d sent the email had really authorized Facebook to speak on their behalf. “Equally of concern is your self-appointed spokesmanship on behalf of those who’ve sent responses to TRAI using your platform. It has been noticed that you have not been authorized by your users to speak on behalf of them collectively.”
With Facebook’s Rs. 300 crore marketing campaign having been essentially nullified thanks to one letter, the issue of Free Basics shall once again be decided by policy experts through debate and analysis.
Facebook had been trying to use its financial and social clout to determine policy issues in India, and it’s heartening to see a government body put it in its place.