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Free Basics in India or How Not to do Country-Wide Public Relations By on Feb 8, 2016

Today lots of American websites are focusing on the best Super Bowl commercial. However, I want to focus on a different topic taking place halfway around the world. This morning the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, or TRAI, ruled against Facebook and their Free Basics service along with other zero rated services.

The main reason the TRAI voted against zero rated services was the perceived damage that they would do to net neutrality. While some websites would be free most would cost money to visit. Eventually, the theory goes, Facebook could control and restrict what the people of India could see on the internet.

The substance of the bill is not what I want to visit today though. What I want to focus on is the public relations and marketing for the bill.

Originally, Facebook had planned to get Free Basics, or passed through lobbying discreet regulatory channels. This thing happens all the time in all kinds of governments. However, their plan got out and SaveTheInternet was born to combat it.

Interestingly enough, both camps first move was to appeal to net neutrality. This ended up being a mistake number one for Facebook as their product, while they may not intend to meter the internet, does not pass muster as a net neutral product. The second appeal both sides made was for public opinion. This was also a mistake for Facebook, as they failed to take into count the differences in culture and social influencers of India and the United States. It also focused attention on the regulators, who are not used to being in the limelight.

Finally, in a last attempt Facebook tried to discredit the local influencers by saying they were preventing the poor from accessing the internet and calling them names like internet ayatollah. This also back fired due to cultural reasons.

All-in-all, Facebook did a terrible job of relating to their publics. They misunderstood the issue as people saw it and failed to realize the way you communicate it differs depending on the audience. It will surely go down as a way not to do public relations on a large country wide scale. We should all learn from their expensive mistake.

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