Nudging the Next Billion
On 18 June 2019, David Marcus, the French-born American entrepreneur and former president of PayPal, announced the launch of his co-creation Libra, Facebook's new cryptocurrency to his almost 50K Twitter followers."Libra's mission is to enable a simple global currency and financial infrastructure that empowers billions of people…because it's time for the internet to have a protocol for money, and it's time to try something new for the 1.7 billion people who are still unbanked 30 years after the invention of the web." After this missionary zeal, he went onto explain the more mundane side of Libra – the partners involved, how they would build consumer trust, and how they would secure payments. The pitch was clearly rooted in a singular message – this is altruism writ large. Facebook has been here before with the launch of Free Basics in August 2013, an initiative that provides limited free internet access to billions of the "digital have nots" through strategic partnerships with global telecom companies. Along the way, net neutrality was relegated as trivial by Facebook as the need to connect the world's unconnected became more crucial. In the name of empowerment, Facebook was able to have the first mover advantage to harvest this enormous global data goldmine.Given the recent spate of data violation and mismanagement scandals enveloping Facebook, it is no surprise that David Marcus faced a twitter storm of critique within hours. Indeed, it was audacious of Facebook to embark on an undertaking that demands trust at the core of its success. Their "move fast and break things" didn't quite pan out the way they envisioned.So what should we make of this Libra initiative? Rather than spiral down the moral condemnation pathway, let's break this down as this is bigger than Facebook.
A Kenyan farmer stands proudly, looking at his crops while talking on his mobile. A group of Bangladeshi women cluster around a phone to get some health information. Children in an Indian slum look absorbed as they navigate their way through an educational gaming app.
What does the actor Russell Crowe, the US senator Ted Cruz and the former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull have in common? Sounds like a bad joke. In a way it is. These men like seven million others have shared the Dutch historian Rutger Bregman’s article “The Real Lord of the Flies” online. The virality of this piece has caught Hollywood’s attention, leading to a bidding war on the movie rights. New Regency (the producer-financiers of The Revenant and 12 years a slave) has surfaced as the victor with a seven-figure offer to seal the deal.