Facebook board member offends India. Facebook recoils

The famed tech investor Marc Andreessen put his foot in his mouth after India rejected a program backed by the social network. Now he's saying sorry.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
2 min read

Facebook board member Marc Andreessen with his wife Laura and CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Splash News/Corbis

Marc Andreessen needs to tweet a billion apologies.

The prominent Silicon Valley investor and Facebook board member on Wednesday took to Twitter to apologize for a series of offensive tweets he posted the night before.

The short missives touched a nerve because they appeared to reference India's colonial history. The world's second-most populous country, with more than a billion people, was a British colony until 1947.

Here's the backstory: On Monday, India's Telecom Regulatory Authority blocked Facebook's Free Basics, which seeks to bring a limited number of Internet sites and services for free to areas of the world where online access is unavailable.

The decision was part of a ruling on Net neutrality, the principle of equal access to all types of content and services on the Internet. Facebook, the country concluded, was violating those ideals by picking which services were accessible for free.

Andreessen, well known for his fiery Twitter personality, called the decision "morally wrong" because India was denying poor people at least partial Internet connectivity. Afterward, he responded to a tweet that suggested he supports "Internet colonialism."

"Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades. Why stop now?" Andreessen wrote in a now-deleted tweet captured by Quartz and Business Insider.

Andreessen's venture capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz, had no further comment. Andreessen said he withdrew his comments "in full and without reservation."

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday tried to distance himself from his board member. "I want to respond to Marc Andreessen's comments about India yesterday," wrote Zuckerberg on his Facebook page. "I found the comments deeply upsetting, and they do not represent the way Facebook or I think at all."

A Facebook spokeswoman also reiterated the sentiment in a statement. "We strongly reject the sentiments expressed by Marc Andreessen last night regarding India."

Andreessen's faux pas comes as Silicon Valley companies increasingly try to woo India and other developing countries to their services. Google and SpaceX are also trying to beam down Internet access to rural regions via balloons and satellites, for example.

All of this comes as the technology sector becomes a bigger player on the world's stage. When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the US in September, he met with Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Apple's Tim Cook.