Indian social media has been on fire since Monday morning, after Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg changed his DP to add the Indian tricolour tint, much like the gay pride tint that went viral when the US legalized gay marriage. He did so in support of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Digital India campaign. Modi had visited Facebook headquarters on Sunday, unleashing in characteristic style, photo ops and quotable quotes.
After Zuckerberg changed his profile picture, many people in India started changing their display picture enthusiastically. Even before the phenomena could properly go viral, someone noticed that when you change your display picture, the html code underneath has a bit that contains the word Internet.org. All hell broke loose immediately.
It came to be posited on Reddit that this means changing your DP to support Digital India will automatically pledge your support for Internet.org, a controversial Facebook initiative whose stated aim is to provide basic internet services free of cost to those who can’t afford the full version of the internet. Critics say it is Facebook’s initiative to make the poorer parts of the world believe that the internet is basically Facebook and then benefit from the hegemony.
This view spread through numerous media stories that did not even bother to check with anybody who understands code what the html bit really meant.
It should really worry Facebook from a trust point of view that the idea that it was hoodwinking people into pledging support for Internet.org spread like wild fire and nobody paused to question that a global behemoth might not do such a blatant sleight of hand especially when a head of government was involved. Besides, it was rather clear from the HTML code that the part that mentioned ‘Internetorg’ was little more than a descriptor for the image file.
Responding to a query, a Facebook spokesperson told HuffPost India that there was no connection between the tricolour DP and Internet.org. “There is absolutely no connection between updating your profile picture for digital India and Internet.org. An engineer mistakenly used the words “Internet.org profile picture” as a shorthand name he chose for part of the code. But this product in no way connects to or registers support for Internet.org. We are changing the code today to eliminate any confusion.”
So yes, you can express support for Digital India if you want to, without worrying that it will count as a yes vote for Internet.org.