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Internet.org, Net Neutrality & Candy Crush: Questions Zuckerberg Answered At IIT Delhi

By Anirban Mukhopadhyay:

Mark Zuckerberg held his latest Townhall Q&A Session at IIT Delhi on 28th October, where he addressed a host of issues, ranging from Net Neutrality to providing Internet access for the poor. A large portion of his Q&A focussed on the importance of connecting over a billion people in India who still don’t have access to the Internet. I was lucky enough to be one of the 900 students who got to witness him live. Though it was certainly an experience to remember, it wasn’t difficult to see Zuckerberg’s extensive attempts at changing our impression of Internet.org.

Image source: Mark Zuckerberg/Facebook
Image source: Mark Zuckerberg/Facebook

According to Zuckerberg, Townhall Q&As are a great way to engage with his community of users, especially so in India, which has Facebook’s second largest user base. He added that research has shown that for every 10 people who get access to the Internet, one job is created, and one person gets lifted out of poverty.

Out of the series of questions he addressed was the problem of connecting billions of people who still don’t have access to the Internet. As expected (and I wasn’t surprised), was Zuckerberg’s answer – Facebook’s highly controversial initiative, Internet.org (recently renamed Free Basics) is the solution, which has connected over 15 million people who earlier had no net access and will continue to do so in the future if it succeeds. Even more important than the lack of availability and affordability, was lack of awareness about the internet, according to him. This is where Internet.org “comes in”. By providing free basic services like Wikipedia, job listings, educational info and so on, Zuckerberg has a grand plan to get people connected to the Internet in the future.

When asked about the next evident topic, ‘net neutrality’, he spoke out wholeheartedly in support of it, while also taking a swipe at the critics of his initiative. “Do I support Net Neutrality? Absolutely!” he said. He lauded Facebook’s extensive efforts in lobbying for legislation that incorporated this basic principle. He also added that the European Union and USA have recently released regulations that are very clear about this subject. Free access to basic services do not violate even these very stringent regulations, he added. Basic services which are changing the lives of people and bringing people out of poverty cannot be detrimental to the society. He took a veiled dig at this critics by adding that most of the people criticising his initiative were those who had access to the Internet. The people who aren’t connected are those who need to be heard. Internet.org or Free Basics does not differentiate between any organisation as long as the services conform to some basic regulations. “If a zero rated product can help a fisherman sell his fish online and provide for his family, what is wrong in that?

Apart from extensive (and after a while repetitive) discussion of internet.org, he also touched upon many other topics while answering questions from the audience. One of the questions was about the elements that constituted a successful startup. “Every good company started with people who cared about something. You shouldn’t start a company without knowing what you want“, he said. He encouraged the audience to be resilient and work on any idea that they think can change the world. He never knew that Facebook was going to reach such heights of success. When asked whether he made any mistakes while building the company, he admitted that he had made every kind of mistake imaginable. “If you do something good, you will get the strength to power through a lot of mistakes,” he said. The reason why Facebook is so successful today is because it is helping people with something very important in their lives, which is staying connected. But he also expressed his regret at how the media conveniently ignored the contribution of people like Sheryl Sandberg, who had an equal hand into making the company into what it is today. He believes that he isn’t the ‘sole representative’ of Facebook.

Mark also promoted (basically ‘touched upon’) some other social initiatives that Facebook has taken, like building schools in countries that need them the most. He gave an example of how Facebook was helping find missing children through its new initiative ‘Amber Alert’, which puts the photograph of missing children on their news feed. Any new info gathered on these children is routed to the local police. In the future, he saw Facebook as the Internet and the Internet as Facebook.

A large part of his answers centered on only Facebook’s social initiatives and its attempt to improve peoples’ lives. Many of the pre selected questions also centred on that fact. (Yes, the questions were carefully curated and selected by Mark and the team at IIT Delhi organizing the event, though some questions were allowed on the spot). Surprisingly, the most popular question during the talk was how to stop receiving Candy Crush requests, and that’s what the media channels covering the event also took away as the most important ‘feature’ of the Q&A.

The question that begs to be asked is: Do the people who need connectivity deserve to get a stripped down ‘Internet’ that Facebook regulates, or the real one that is unregulated?

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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