Commentary

Facebook Investor Steps In It, Enrages Subcontinent

At this point in history it’s probably safe to say that if you aspire to be in “business,” broadly defined, you should probably just never, ever, ever express an opinion about anything remotely controversial, including (but not limited to!) race, gender and gender identity, sexuality, politics, welfare, “social justice,” tort reform, and the future of One Direction.

To this list we can definitively add “colonialism,” which, honestly: duh. However this was not obvious to venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, a member of the Facebook board of directors who sparked outrage with a tweet Wednesday following the Indian telecom regulator’s decision to block Facebook’s “Free Basics” initiative to bring free, limited Internet access to underserved parts of the country.

Andreessen’s tweet read: “Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades. Why stop now?”

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The reaction to this ill-considered sentiment was overwhelmingly negative, as one might expect, considering that the struggle against British rule played a central role in the formation of Indian national identity and is inextricably intertwined with issues of race and economic exploitation, all of which tend to generate strong feelings. So first of all: probably just don’t.

Even worse are the “optics” of the event, as PR professionals might say, what with a wealthy white foreigner appearing to suggest, in a fit of petulance, that Indian independence should be revoked because his business interests were being frustrated, and because another round of colonial rule could really benefit the Indian people. Again, just: no.  Put the Twitter down, step away from the computer, and go take a walk.  Trust me, you’ll thank me later.

All this being freely acknowledged, I would like to point out that what Andreessen wrote is almost certainly not what he intended to say. In this case “anti-colonialism” refers not to the actual struggle for independence culminating in 1947 – which it’s hard to imagine any responsible, informed person taking issue with now – but an ideology that has “continued” that struggle by inculcating reflexive distrust of Western influence, including economic protectionism intended to foster self-reliance and a “non-aligned” stance during the Cold War.

But the thing about Twitter is it’s kind of hard to convey that all in 140 characters or less. So anyway, yeah, just: don’t. 

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