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

  • Moonjung Yim University of Washington Information School
  • Ricardo Gomez University of Washington
  • Michelle S Carter University of Washington Information School
Keywords: Facebook, Free Basics, Development, IT Identity


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.

Author Biographies

Moonjung Yim, University of Washington Information School

Moonjung Yim is a Ph.D. student in the Information School at the University of Washington. Her research explores technology and social change, information and communication technologies (ICTs) in developing countries, and ICTs impact assessment.

Ricardo Gomez, University of Washington
Ricardo Gomez is Associate Professor at the Information School of University of Washington.
Michelle S Carter, University of Washington Information School

Michelle Carter is an Assistant Professor in the Information School at the University of Washington and President of the Association of Information Systems (AIS) Special Interest Group on Social Inclusion (SIG-SI). Her work has appeared in MIS Quarterly, MISQ Executive, European Journal of Information Systems, Communications of the AIS, and ACM Transactions on Management Information Systems, as well as several conference proceedings and book chapters.  Michelle's current research investigates the involvement of IT in identity, humanness, and social change in an increasingly digital world.

How to Cite
Yim, M., Gomez, R., & Carter, M. (2016). Facebook’s “Free Basics”: For or against community development?. The Journal of Community Informatics, 12(2). Retrieved from http://www.ci-journal.net/index.php/ciej/article/view/1321