While Facebook’s business model
is based on intimate disclosure (to my
taste, often banal and narcissistic),
the Internet’s hopeful promise to the
Global South is for rich civic discourse,
democratic development, and economic opportunity. It is possible that these
two objectives are not only inconsistent
but even in opposition. Moreover, a
Facebook on-ramp presents significant
privacy concerns (all user activities are
monitored by Facebook), confounds
network neutrality principles (with premium fees for activities not deemed
“basic”), and can stymie innovation (as
Facebook oversees apps, imposes narrowing service terms, and the like).
When Bill Gates wanted to increase
Internet access to the poor within the
U.S. he did not privilege Microsoft
products as an on-ramp to the Internet.
He gifted unconstrained open Inter-
net connectivity to the nation’s public
libraries. Mark Zuckerberg would do
well to follow this lead.
1. José, M. Facebook Democracy: The Architecture of
Disclosure and the Threat to Public Life. Ashgate
Publishing Limited. Farnham, U. K., 2012.
2. Miners, Z. Zuckerberg wants Facebook to be the
world’s Internet on-ramp. Computerworld (Feb. 2014);
3. Tsukayama, H. Facebook-backed app offers free
Internet access in Zambia. The Washington Post (Aug.
1, 2014); http://wapo.st/Zsc8xr.
4. Zuckerberg, M. Is connectivity a human right?; http://
5. Zuckerberg, M. Mark Zuckerberg on a future where the
Internet is available to all. Wall Street Journal (July 7,
2014); http://on.wsj.com/1v TXokd.
Michael L. Best ( email@example.com) is associate
professor at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs
and the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia
Institute of Technology where he directs the Technologies
and International Development Lab.
Ian Bogost, Carl DiSalvo, Jonathan Donner, and Colin
Maclay all provided very helpful inputs to this column.
Copyright held by author.
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All the while, the proprietors
are monitoring every aside I
make to a friend, or lingering
glance I place on a storefront
window. The proprietors are well
meaning enough but they realize
someone has to pay for all the
costs associated with the grounds.
They portfolioize my asides and
my glances and sell them to
storefront managers who can use the information to personalize my shopping options,
constraining my experience to match their calculation of my interests.
We feel free in our choices as we linger on the grounds, though of course its well-planned architecture is not without influences. If the proprietors want us to favor the
revolving door entrance over the swing door they simply recede the swing door back
just a few steps. We feel happy to “choose” the revolving door though, of course, the
architecture has encouraged us in our choice.
The garden cannot help but to keep growing as more and more people come to enjoy
its varied interests. However, while it is true that many people are relishing the garden
most people the world over are not. Most people simply cannot pay the cost to gain
access to the garden’s front gates.
But the manager has a brilliant new idea: free transportation for the world’s less
privileged directly to the garden gates, as long as you agree to saunter even briefly
within its confines. At the entrance gates these newcomers are welcomed freely and
they stream in. But when it comes time to exit, to everyone’s surprise, they have placed
ticket booths. It was free to enter; now they pay to leave.
—Michael L. Best
The Walled Garden: