In eagerness to push Free Basics, Facebook slips up

Ahead of a public hearing on net neutrality next month, Facebook has been asking its user base in India to throw its support behind the company's controversial Free Basics initiative, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg's pet project to bring internet access to the entire world.

On Monday, it started asking its US users to do the same - by mistake.

Facebook rolled out notifications encouraging users to ''send a message to TRAI to support digital equality,'' with a link to a blank email that included the subject, ''I Support Free Basics in India.'' Trai is the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, the regulatory body holding the public debate.

The notification caught the attention of a few users in the US who were curious about why Facebook was using its notifications tab to push its political agenda, especially one in India. A spokesperson claims that it wasn't intentional. ''Hundreds of millions of people in India use the internet every day and understand the benefits it can bring. This campaign gives people the opportunity to support digital equality in India.

''We accidentally turned on this notification for some people outside India this evening for a short period of time - it's been on for English-speakers in India for several days now,'' Facebook said in a statement given to Re/code.

Facebook has been dealing with Internet.org backlash in India all year, and this is not the first time that it has lobbied its user base for support. The issue is that Facebook's Free Basics app offers some internet services (like Facebook) for free, but doesn't offer the entire internet for free. Opponents argue that this violates net neutrality, the concept that all content online should be treated equally.

The issue in India is big, not only because it is home to Facebook's second-biggest user base outside the US, but because whatever happens in India is likely to set a precedent in other important countries like Indonesia and Brazil. A few extra signatures from the US probably can't hurt.

(See: Facebook goes all-out to push Free Basics in India)