Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg has denounced comments made by key Facebook investor Marc Andreessen that appeared to support the colonization of India.
The high-profile Silicon Valley venture capitalist took to Twitter on Tuesday evening local time to defend Facebook's Free Basics program, which recently failed to garner support with Indian regulators. In his initial tweet, he said it was "morally wrong" to deny free partial-internet connectivity to the world's poorest people.
Things went south when Andreessen responded to a user who compared Free Basics to "Internet colonialism." He replied in a tweet that has since been deleted, "Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades. Why stop now?"
Users on Twitter were, unsurprisingly, upset.
Facebook was quick to denounce the comments by Andreessen, who was an early investor in Facebook and has been a board member since 2008. The company said on Wednesday, "We strongly reject the sentiments expressed by Marc Andreessen last night regarding India."
In a separate post on Facebook, Zuckerberg called Andreessen's comments "deeply upsetting."
Zuckerberg wrote, "India has been personally important to me and Facebook," and that Andreessen's comments did not represent the way he, or the social media giant, thought. The Facebook founder said his travels in India solidified his understanding that "when all people have the power to share their experiences, the entire world will make progress."
Zuckerberg ended his Facebook post by saying, "I've been inspired by how much progress India has made in building a strong nation and the largest democracy in the world, and I look forward to strengthening my connection to the country."
India was under British colonial rule since the middle of 1700s till 1947.
Andreessen has since apologized for his gaffe, saying his comment was "ill-informed and ill-advised." He added, "To be clear, I am 100% opposed to colonialism, and 100% in favor of independence and freedom, in any country, including India."
Facebook's Free Basics is a program that offers free internet access to a limited number of websites.
Unveiled last year in India under the name Internet.org, Free Basics works to achieve Zuckerberg's goal of universal digital access, including for the 30 percent of Indians living below the poverty line. Just over 250 million of India's 1.3 billion people have Internet access.
The program came under fire from Indian net neutrality advocates, who argued that all Internet content should be treated equally. Websites not part of Free Basics would incur data costs to appear on the Internet.org offering.
On Monday India's telecommunication regulator, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), ruled against the social media company's efforts, suggesting the program violated principles of net neutrality.
In a regulatory missive, TRAI said no service provider should offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content, unless over closed electronic communications networks.
TheTimes of India reported on Thursday that soon after the TRAI decision, Reliance put a charge on the Internet.org program. Citing a Reliance spokesperson, the Times of India said the telecom operator had started reconfiguring access to Free Basics, making it chargeable for data usage.
Facebook has used the Free Basics model in a number of emerging markets, including Colombia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Mexico.
Responding in a separate post to the TRAI's decision, Zuckerberg wrote that Facebook would not give up on connecting the masses in India to the internet.
"While we're disappointed with today's decision, I want to personally communicate that we are committed to keep working to break down barriers to connectivity in India and around the world," Zuckerberg wrote of TRAI's ruling. "Internet.org has many initiatives, and we will keep working until everyone has access to the internet."
— Nyshka Chandran and Reuters contributed to this report.