Facebook’s “Free Basics”: For or against community development?

Moonjung Yim, Ricardo Gomez, Michelle S Carter


A recent discussion on a prominent community informatics (CI) listserv revealed arguments for and against the Facebook’s Free Basics platform among researchers in the field. To continue and enrich the conversation, this study first examines the contrasting stances revealed in the CI listserv discussion and derives the CI researchers’ major concerns about the platform. Under the light of these concerns, we then explore the nature of Facebook’s Free Basics in relation to community development through analysis of one of the forefront services that Free Basics offers, i.e., Facebook. Specifically, we examine relationships between uses of Facebook and information technology (IT) identity formation and social capital. We argue that although projects operated by private companies may possess potential for supporting community development, much consideration is needed in embracing the technology solutions due to the risks and restrictions they can impose on its users. We also suggest the CI researchers to open the next round of discussion regarding ways to thoroughly assess possible flaws of Free Basics and help users of the platform make more informed decisions. IT identity is a new theory that can help shed new light on the challenges of using platforms such as Free Basics and their contribution to community development.

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The Journal of Community Informatics. ISSN: 1712-4441