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Internet leaders show they have stopped thinking

Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, is credited as being a “really smart kid”. His success with Facebook has meant that he has received adulation from his fans and other people in the industry agree – he is marvellous. Indeed, so powerful is this Emperor of the Internet that a whole host of Internet leaders have joined forces with him in his latest venture, “Internet.org”. Nokia, Opera and Samsung are amongst the communications giants that have fallen in behind this so-called “important” development.

None of them obviously feel able to tell the Emperor he has no clothes.

The Internet.org project has the lofty aim of bringing Internet access to everyone on the planet. Everyone. All 7 billion of them.

Currently, 2.4 billion people have Internet access – that’s 34% of the world. Mark Zuckeberg’s Facebook currently reaches only half of them and growth appears to have peaked. So, the “only” option for further growing Facebook is to get the rest of the world online. Or at least that’s the woefully inadequate theory behind Internet.org.

For a start, around 1 billion people lack fresh water. Three children under the age of 5 die every minute of every day because they lack fresh water.

Whilst this is happening, Mark Zuckerber’s Internet.org wants us to connect more to each other. The launch video uses the words of John F Kennedy saying: “I am not referring to the absolute, infinite concept of universal peace and goodwill of which some fantasies and fanatics dream. Let us focus instead on a more practical, more attainable peace. This will require a new effort, a new context for world discussions. It will require increased understanding. And increased understanding will require increased contact.”

Then the video adds: “Today, the internet isn’t accessible for two thirds of the world. Imagine a world where it connects us all.”

Some are muttering, “pass the sick bag” at this blatant – and seemingly inappropriate connection of a speech about the ending of the Cold War to modern commercialism. Indeed, President Kennedy was attempting to prevent the presence of super-powers. Yet an Internet superpower has taken his speech and ridden on the back of it.

If Mark Zuckerberg really is as “smart” as he is credited as being, would he have not realised that perhaps fresh water was more important than Internet access? That poverty would need eliminating before we made better mobile phones that worked in remote locations – another “dream” of Internet.org. Indeed, would he have not realised that the very point being made by President Kennedy is the reverse of what his company is trying to do?

This may all be a clever publicity trick, of course, making people think he is trying to achieve something marvellous – when in reality it is about raising the positive image of Facebook.

However, it may also be one of those occasions when the adulation a leader receives starts to make that leader believe his own publicity. And that is not smart; it is dumb.

It is also an indication of a more pressing concern about the Internet itself. The people who run the Internet are so embroiled in a web-based and app-based world that they are losing touch with reality. And that doesn’t bode well for the future of the web.

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