Facebook addresses political controversy in India, monetization opportunities, startup investments – ProWellTech
At the beginning of the previous decade, Facebook had a small presence in India. He had just started slowly expanding his team across the country and was making deals with telecom operators to make access to his service free for users and even offer incentives like free voice credit.
India’s Internet population, now the second largest with over 500 million connected users, was itself very small. As of early 2011, the country had fewer than 100 million internet users.
But Facebook it has ended up playing a crucial role in the last decade. So much so that eventually the social behemoth was reaching almost all internet users in the country. Whatsapp alone, it reaches more than 400 million internet users in India, more than any other app in the country, according to mobile analytics firm App Annie.
This reach of Facebook in India has not gone unnoticed. Politicians in the country today rely heavily on Facebook services, including WhatsApp, to get their message out. But it also complicated things.
Rumors have spread on WhatsApp that cost lives and politicians from both major Indian political parties in recent weeks have accused the company of showing favoritism on the other side.
To address these issues and the role Facebook wants to play in India, Ajit Mohan, the head of the company’s operations in the country, joined us at Disrupt 2020. Below are some of the highlights.
On the controversy
A recent report in the WSJ claimed that Ankhi Das, one of the top Facebook executives in India, decided not to remove a post from a ruling party politician. It did so, the report said, because it feared it could harm the company’s business prospects in India.
In the first interview since the controversy broke out, Mohan refuted claims that any executive in the country has the power to influence how Facebook enforces its content policy.
“We believe it is important for us to be open, neutral and non-partisan,” he said. “We have deep conviction and conviction that our enabling role is that of a neutral party that allows speech of all kinds, that allows expression of all kinds, including political expression, and many of the guidelines we have developed. they are to make sure that we really enable our diversity of expressions and opinions as long as we can make sure that people’s safety and security are protected. “
Mohan said the internal processes and systems within Facebook are designed to ensure that any views and preferences of an employee or group of employees are “fairly separate from the company and the objective enforcement of its policies.”
He said people can offer input on decisions, but no one – including Ankhi Das – can unilaterally influence the decision Facebook makes on content enforcement.
“We allow free expression also within the company. We have no constraints on the people who express their views, but we see it separate from the application of our content policy. […] Content policy itself, in the context of India, is a separate team from the public policy team led by Ankhi, “he added.
On India and monetization
Even though Facebook has amassed hundreds of millions of users in India, the second largest market in the world contributes little to its profits. So why does Facebook care so much about the country?
“India is in the midst of a very exciting economic and social transformation in which digital has a huge role to play. In the last four years alone, more than 500 million users have been online. The pace of this transformation probably has no parallel in either human history or the digital transformation taking place in countries around the world, “he said.
“For a company like ours, if you look at the family of apps on WhatsApp and Instagram, we believe we have a useful role to play in fueling this transformation,” he said.
While Facebook doesn’t generate much revenue from India, Mohan said the company has established itself as one of the most trusted platforms for marketers. “They see us as a material partner in their marketing agenda,” he said.
He said the company hopes advertising as GDP will increase in India. “Therefore, advertising revenue will become substantial over time,” he said.
For Facebook, India is also crucial because it allows the company to build some unique products that solve problems for India but could be replicated in other markets. The company is currently testing an integration of WhatsApp, which currently has no business model despite having over 2 billion users, with the new Indian e-commerce JioMart, to allow users to easily track their orders.
“We think there is an opportunity to build models native to India, experiment on a large scale and in a world where we are successful, we see tremendous opportunities in taking some of these models globally,” he said.
Facebook as a VC
Facebook doesn’t usually invest in startups. But in India, the company invested in the social-commerce company Meesho, online learning platform Unacademy – it also participated in its follow-up round – and earlier this year wrote a 5.7 check. billions of dollars to Jio Platforms. So why is Facebook taking this investment route in India?
“We wanted to create a program to take minority investments in early stage startups to understand how we could benefit startup founders and the ecosystem as a whole. The starting point was the support of teams that were building models that in some way were unique in India and could go global. Since we made an investment in Meesho, they made a strong push in Indonesia. These are the kind of company where we believe we can add value and learn from these startups, “he said.
The partnership with Jio Platforms follows a different logic. “The transformation we’ve been talking about in India in recent years, Jio has triggered it,” he said. In addition to this, Facebook is exploring ways to work with Jio, for example with its partnership with JioMart, Jio’s firm. “It can really fuel small and medium-sized businesses which is good for the Indian economy,” he said.
Mohan said the company continues to explore more opportunities in Indian startups, especially with those where teams think Facebook can add value, but said there isn’t any kind of mandate that Facebook has to invest in, let’s say dozens of. startup in three or four. years. “It’s not a volume game,” he said.
During the Q&A portion of the interview, Mohan was asked if Reliance Industries, which runs Jio Platforms and Reliance Retail, will receive special access to Facebook’s services. What if Amazon, BigBasket, Grofers or Flipkart also wanted to integrate with WhatsApp? Mohan said the Facebook platform is open to all businesses and everyone will receive the same level of access and opportunity.
In the interview, Mohan, who ran the Disney-run Hotstar The on-demand streaming service in India also talked about the growing use of video in India, the state of the launch of WhatsApp Pay in the country, what Facebook thinks of India’s ban on Chinese apps, and much more. You can watch the full interview below.