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India Journalism

Inside Facebook and Private Equity’s $8.8 Billion Bet on India’s Richest Man

Facebook Jio

That’s the headline on my newest story, out yesterday. It begins:

Facebook Inc. and a trio of U.S. private-equity firms have in the past month poured billions of dollars into an upstart mobile operator controlled by India’s richest man.

The stakes, which add up to $8.8 billion, amount to a bet that Jio Platforms Ltd. and Mukesh Ambani, the chairman and largest shareholder of its parent company, Reliance Industries Ltd., are the players best positioned to bring legions of Indian consumers fully online and into e-commerce.

Facebook’s April announcement that it would invest $5.7 billion for a stake in Mumbai-based Jio was quickly followed by $750 million from Silver Lake and $1.5 billion from Vista Equity Partners. On Sunday, Jio said it was raising $870 million from another private-equity powerhouse, General Atlantic.

I also discussed the piece on an episode of our Tech News Briefing podcast. Click here to listen, or search for the show wherever you listen to podcasts.

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India Journalism Tech

Facebook Takes $5.7 Billion Stake in India’s Jio Platforms

That’s the headline on my most recent story, out Wednesday with my colleague Jeff Horwitz. It begins:

Facebook Inc. said it would pay $5.7 billion for just under 10% of Indian telecom operator Jio Platforms Ltd., a massive expansion of the social media giant’s commitment to a promising market where it has faced difficulties.

The deal, unveiled late Tuesday, is Facebook’s largest overseas investment and gives it the opportunity to bring its WhatsApp messaging service—which has more than 400 million users in India—into closer partnership with the mobile operator that upended India’s telecommunications industry with cut-rate data plans.

Jio Platforms Ltd. and its subsidiary, mobile operator Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd., are part of Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries Ltd. Jio Infocomm provides services to about 388 million customers.

The deal shows how Facebook, like other tech giants, is pushing ahead and taking advantage of its relative strength during a pandemic that is causing most other industries to retreat.

In a subsequent story, I looked a little closer at the who gets what out of the deal. The lede:

Facebook Inc.’s $5.7 billion tie-up with an Indian mobile leader could create a new kind of animal in the world’s biggest untapped digital market: a social media behemoth wedded to a mobile infrastructure titan—both coveting e-commerce.

Now the two companies are expected to square off against some formidable online shopping rivals: Amazon.com Inc. and Walmart Inc., which have each invested billions in the South Asian market.

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Newley's Notes

Newley’s Notes 175: Sri Lanka Bombings

2019 05 05srilanka

Hi, friends. Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes.

Apologies for my absence these past two weeks.

On Easter Sunday, when NN was last due to go out, news emerged about the horrific bombings at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka that killed more than 250 people. I was soon on a plane from New Delhi to Colombo.

I spent a good chunk of time in the capital and in the coastal city of Batticaloa. It was a heartbreaking story, but I’m proud of the work my WSJ colleagues and I did to document the events and get at the truth of what happened.

This week’s NN, then, will not be the typically wide ranging compendium of disparate links, but will focus mainly on the stories I wrote from Sri Lanka, along with a couple of other items you may have missed.

Here goes, in chronological order:

1) With my colleague Jon Emont: Sri Lanka Blocks Social Media Amid Bomb Attacks [WSJ]

“As Sri Lankan authorities scrambled amid a wave of deadly bombings across the country on Easter morning, among their first responses was to block social media, including Facebook and the popular messaging service WhatsApp.”

The block has since been lifted, but reflected, as we wrote, the “growing concerns in many parts of the world about the spread of false information and hate speech on social media and the use of online platforms to incite or exacerbate tensions.”

👂➡ Note: I later discussed the story with Kim Gittleson on The WSJ’s What’s News podcast.

2) With my colleague Eric Bellman: ‘Everyone Has Lost Someone’—Sri Lankan Church Bombing’s Wrenching Toll [WSJ]

“A parishioner was leading a prayer of thanksgiving to wrap up Easter Sunday services when a tall, slim young man ran into St. Sebastian’s Church from a side door.

Eric and I focused on one of the hardest hit churches, speaking with victims’ families and others from the community to tell the story of what happened that day.

3) Another piece with my colleague Eric Bellman: Sri Lankans Adapt to Social-Media Shutdown as Government Holds the Line [WSJ]

“While some citizens said they welcomed the restrictions, others said they had found workarounds.”

4) A story with my colleagues Ben Otto and Niharkia Mandhana: Islamist Preacher Died in Sri Lanka Attack [WSJ]

“Authorities confirmed that a radical preacher who inspired a series of Easter bombings died during the attack, but security forces pursued Islamist militants into Friday evening, engaging in fierce firefights in the area from which he hailed.”

5) Sri Lankan Islamist Called for Violence on Facebook Before Easter Attacks [WSJ]

“Facebook declined to comment on when, or how many, of Hashim’s Facebook postings it has removed nor did the company say when it initiated the 24-hour monitoring in local languages. Facebook deleted the videos still visible Tuesday after the Journal inquired about them.

Meanwhile, an item unrelated to Sri Lanka:

6) In NN 174 I shared the story I wrote about anti-vaccine misinformation on WhatsApp in India. Not long after it ran I joined CBS News’s Anne-Marie Green and Vladimir Duthiers to talk about the situation. The video clip is online here.

Thanks, as ever, for reading. Normal programming will resume next week.

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👊 Fist bump from New Delhi,
Newley

(Image via Sri Lanka Wikipedia page.)

Categories
India Journalism

India Wants Facebook to Curb Fake News Ahead of Elections

2019 03 08facebook india fake news

That’s the headline of my most recent story, which I wrote with my colleague Rajesh Roy. It begins:

NEW DELHI—India is pushing Facebook Inc. to do more to combat fake news ahead of coming national elections, underscoring global scrutiny on the social-media titan.

A closed Indian parliamentary panel on Wednesday asked Joel Kaplan, the company’s global policy chief, to ensure the social network, its WhatsApp messaging service and its photo-sharing app Instagram wouldn’t be abused as the world’s biggest democracy goes to the polls. India’s election commission is expected to announce soon that the elections will begin in March or April.

“We discussed the challenges faced with these platforms, especially with regard to data security and citizens’ privacy,” Anurag Thakur, a parliamentarian from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party who heads the panel on information technology, told The Wall Street Journal.

Click through to read the rest.

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India Journalism Tech

Amazon, Facebook and Walmart Need to Watch Their Backs in India

2019 02 01 india gate

That’s the headline on a story I wrote Tuesday with my colleague Rajesh Roy. It begins:

Hoping to match China’s success at protecting and promoting homegrown tech titans, India has plans to continue tightening restrictions on Amazon.com Inc., Walmart Inc., Facebook Inc. and other foreign firms that have come to dominate the country’s budding internet economy.

As hundreds of millions of people get online for the first time, and with national elections due in the coming months, Indian policy makers are upping the pressure on American rivals and changing policies to favor domestic players.

The secretary of India’s Telecommunications Department, Aruna Sundararajan, last week told a gathering of Indian startups in a closed-door meeting in the tech hub of Bangalore that the government will introduce a “national champion” policy “very soon” to encourage the rise of Indian companies, according to a person familiar with the matter. She said Indian policy makers had noted the success of China’s internet giants, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Tencent Holdings Ltd. , the person said. She didn’t immediately respond to a request for more details on the program or its timing.

Asked about the comments, she said in a WhatsApp message that the idea is to promote Indian companies “to become global champions."

Click through to read the rest.

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Journalism Tech

Facebook’s WhatsApp Limits Users’ Ability to Forward Messages

2019 01 22whatsapp

That’s the headline on my most recent story, out yesterday, with my colleague James Hookway. It begins:

Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp messaging service is limiting users’ ability to forward content, seeking to curtail ways the popular platform allows the spread of misinformation and sometimes has led to violence.

The move, which follows months of criticism over the company’s response to such incidents, is one of the bigger changes Facebook has made to one of its core services in response to political pressure.

The company said Monday that WhatsApp’s more than one billion global users can now only forward material to five individual users or groups at once, down from 20.

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India Journalism Tech

Exclusive By Me Yesterday: Facebook Messenger Hires Anand Chandrasekaran

The story begins:

NEW DELHI— Facebook Inc. is hiring a high-profile technology executive with expertise in Silicon Valley and India to help develop strategies for its Messenger app, an increasingly important platform for the social-media company.

Anand Chandrasekaran, a former senior executive at Yahoo Inc., will assume a global leadership role working on strategies and partnerships for Facebook’s billion-user-strong texting service, said people familiar with the situation.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Mr. Chandrasekaran would be based in the U.S. or India.

An announcement could be made as soon as Tuesday, one of the people said.

A Facebook spokeswoman confirmed the hire, but didn’t add anything further.

After working at Yahoo, Mr. Chandrasekaran served as chief product officer at Bharti Airtel Ltd., India’s largest cellular company, where he launched Airtel’s mobile application and a popular music-streaming app.

Last year, he joined New Delhi-based Snapdeal, one of India’s major e-commerce startups, as chief product officer. He departed the company in recent months.

With global users increasingly flocking to messaging platforms such as Facebook’s own WhatsApp and Chinese internet company Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s WeChat, the Menlo Park, Calif., company is eager to transform Messenger into a hub for activities such as e-commerce.

In April, Facebook emphasized its focus on the app at its annual F8 conference in San Francisco, showing developers how to create so-called chatbots for the service. These automated services can interact with consumers in real time to answer questions about the prices of goods, for example.

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Journalism Tech

By Me Last Week: Twitter Outshines Facebook — in Japan

The story begins:

Twitter Inc. is now bigger than its rival Facebook — in Japan, at least.

A week after quarterly earnings fueled investors’ concerns that Twitter’s user growth has stalled, the company for the first time Thursday broke out its user numbers for a country outside the U.S., saying it had 35 million monthly active users in the world’s third-largest economy as of the end of last year.

Facebook, a major competitor for advertising dollars, had 25 million monthly active users in Japan as of the end of 2015, a Facebook spokeswoman said Thursday.

Twitter’s user base has long been compared to Facebook’s, which is much larger globally. Twitter last week said 320 million users signed into the platform at least once a month in the fourth quarter, the same as in the previous three months. Facebook, by comparison, said it had 1.59 billion monthly active users as of the end of last year, up 3% from the previous three months.

It was the first time Twitter’s closely watched user growth flatlined from the previous three-month period. More troubling: the number of users in the U.S. fell to 65 million from 66 million.

Click through to read the rest.

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Journalism Tech

Scoop: Facebook Eyeing Asia for Instant Articles Ad Platform

A colleague and I reported earlier this week that Facebook’s looking at Asia to launch its Instant Articles advertising platform.

The story begins:

Facebook Inc. is laying the groundwork to expand its Instant Articles service in Asia, underscoring the extent to which it considers populous emerging markets as it implements new features.

The world’s largest social network has in recent weeks advertised job openings via its Asia-Pacific headquarters in Singapore for contractors who will work with “new publishers to begin developing Instant Articles” and “provide direct support to publishers” who use the service. The jobs call for candidates who can speak Thai or Vietnamese.

Instant Articles allow media companies to publish material directly on Facebook, rather than as links to their sites. Facebook says these articles load ten times faster than standard articles on mobile phones. The company launched Instant Articles in the U.S. in May and in India last week.

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Journalism Tech

By Me This Week: Zuckerberg Visits India

The story begins:

Shut out of China, Mark Zuckerberg is training his sights on India as a source for future growth.

The Facebook Inc. founder arrived in India on Tuesday as he continues working to expand the company’s reach in a billion-person economy becoming increasingly important in the social networking giant’s quest to add new users.

It is Mr. Zuckerberg’s second visit to India in the last 12 months. During the last one he met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and launched a free Internet initiative.

Connecting more people in the developing world has become an important goal for Mr. Zuckerberg and his firm. India’s population of more than 1.2 billion people, millions of whom speak English, will be one of the biggest targets for the company’s global growth plans, analysts say, as China doesn’t allow its citizens access to the website.

I also helped some colleagues out with a liveblog for the town hall Q&A Zuckerberg held in Delhi.

Click through for a re-cap of the event, in which Zuckerberg defended Facebook’s controversial free Internet project, Internet.org, which I mentioned writing about few weeks back.