Could the Internet eradicate poverty?

Mark Zuckerberg addressed the UN on Saturday to call for increased global internet access as a way to eliminate poverty. 

Eric Risberg/AP
Mark Zuckerberg delivers the keynote address at the Facebook F8 Developer Conference in March 2015. Yesterday he addressed the UN on global internet access.

In a speech at the UN in New York on Saturday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg described what he believes to be the solution to poverty: the Internet.

Mr. Zuckerberg called for increased global internet access, announcing a partnership between Facebook and the UN to bring Internet access to refugee camps, CNN reported.

“A ‘like’ or a post won’t stop a tank or a bullet, but when people are connected, we have a chance to build a common global community with a shared understanding,” Zuckerberg told the UN private sector forum, the Indian Express reported. “That’s a powerful force.”

According to the United Nations, some 836 million people live in extreme poverty, surviving on less than $1.25 a day. These rates have been cut in half since the 1990s, the UN reports. 

The UN's partnership with Facebook is part of the organization's larger plan to eliminate poverty by 2030. As the first of 17 Sustainable Development Goals world leaders committed to on Friday, eliminating world poverty includes improving access to resources.

“By 2030, ensure that all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of 13 property, inheritance, natural resources, appropriate new technology and financial services, including microfinance,” the UN initiative states.

Equal rights and access to appropriate new technology includes internet access. Yet Zuckerberg’s goal is a bit more ambitious. Within the next five years, Zuckerberg along with Microsoft’s Bill Gates and other tech leaders plan to bring the Internet to everyone in the world.

Together the two tech leaders have partnered with one.org, the “connectivity declaration” which recognizes the “indispensable role the internet plays in creating jobs and opportunities, enabling access to essential public services, advancing human rights and justice, and ensuring government transparency and accountability.” The declaration calls on governments and innovators to help make worldwide access a reality.

"By giving people access to the tools, knowledge and opportunities of the Internet, we can give a voice to the voiceless and power to the powerless," Zuckerberg wrote in a recent post on his Facebook page.

For Zuckerberg, universal Internet access is a “global priority.” In 2013, Zuckerberg launched Internet.org, an “initiative bringing together technology leaders, nonprofits, and local communities to connect the two thirds of the world that doesn’t have internet access.”

The website cites that only one out of every three people worldwide can go online. “The more we connect, the better it gets,” says the initiative.

Some have criticized Zuckerberg and Facebook though, pointing out that Facebook will benefit from increased internet access, giving the company broader reach.

“Facebook has proven over and over again that its goal is to make our personal lives less private. With the recent expansion of the Internet.org platform, what has evolved is an increasingly misleading model. The company is asking Internet.org users to give up their privacy and freedom of choice,” Rafael Laguna, chief executive of collaboration software provider Open-Xchange, told Venture Beat.

Furthermore, critics say the internet.org program violates “net neutrality, providing limited access to sites and controlling what users can view online,” reports The Next Web. In an open letter to Zuckerberg written in May, human rights organizations and tech companies alike pointed out several concerns with Zuckerberg’s approach, though they maintained support for the overall goal of “bringing affordable Internet access to the two-thirds of the world who currently lack it.”

Canada, Germany, Sweden and the US have committed about $25 billion so far to achieving the goal of global internet access.

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