As global leaders of government, non-profit and private sector came together in New York City to ratify the Sustainable Development Goals this past weekend, the Refugee Crisis, largely comprised of people seeking shelter from the civil war and war against ISIS in Syria, remains on the minds of many in attendance. Stories of tragedy and heartbreak have been punctuated with acts of kindness towards those affected by what has become one of the world's greatest humanitarian disasters. But is the offer from Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg a gift to be welcomed or one to be regarded with caution? The announcement that Facebook intends to "help refugees access aid and maintain family links," by providing them connectivity comes at a time when we have seen over and over again how critical the right to communicate is and how ICTs such as computers and mobile phones can help put that right within reach of the world's marginalized peoples. Although Zuckerberg's details are quite scarce on when, where, how, and at what cost connectivity will be provided to refugees via Facebook's Internet.org efforts, I commend him for being one of the few people who are actually speaking up about this necessity in the face of this crisis.
Much may be made of the criticisms that Facebook is not promoting a free and open Internet by facilitating free access to only a few handpicked websites, but this approach is being changed - and even if it wasn't, Internet.org is one of the few initiatives apart from A4AI that is making serious headway in bringing millions more people online at free or reduced costs (let's face it, Google Loon is still quite "pie in the sky" at this stage).
In my own work introducing secondary school girls in Nairobi, Kenya to the biNu and Worldreader apps, I have seen that reducing the costs of access to communication media and information can have a significant positive impact on one's quality of life. The refugee crisis undoubtedly has millions of people who would use their Internet access to connect with loved ones, to find ways out of dangerous situations, or even to share their story with the world in a bid to attract support and other assistance to their cause. If Zuckerberg wants to help these people achieve these goals, I say we let him. After all, he would be doing what very few will or even care to do, as evidenced by the shocking lack of attention to ICTs in the Sustainable Development Goals themselves.