In a conversation on Twitter on Tuesday evening, Mr. Andreessen defended Facebook’s Free Basics, an initiative that seeks to provide Internet access to people worldwide — and especially in developing countries — through simplified phone applications that run more efficiently. The program has been introduced in multiple countries, including India, where people could use it to view certain sites without incurring data charges.
This week, Indian regulators struck down the so-called zero-data program, saying that mobile phone companies should not be allowed to “shape the users’ Internet experience” by providing free access only to certain services.
In defense of Facebook’s efforts, Mr. Andreessen, who posts prolifically on Twitter, argued that Indians were being shortsighted with the ban. When other Twitter users compared Facebook’s efforts to a colonialist approach, Mr. Andreessen wrote, “Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades. Why stop now?”
Hundreds of users, many of whom said they were of Indian descent, reacted negatively to Mr. Andreessen’s comment and what appeared to be his pro-colonialist sentiment. The tweet has since been deleted. Facebook swiftly swatted down Mr. Andreessen’s comments on Wednesday.
“We strongly reject the sentiments expressed by Marc Andreessen last night regarding India,” Facebook said in a statement. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, also posted on the social network that he found Mr. Andreessen’s comments “deeply upsetting, and they do not represent the way Facebook or I think at all.”
He added that through his travels to India, he has “gained a deeper appreciation for the need to understand India’s history and culture.” The comments come at an inopportune time for the social network, which is still reeling from the defeat of Free Basics in India. Experts said Facebook might have misjudged its aggressive push into the country, in which it spent millions of dollars on lobbying and advertising to promote the Free Basics program.
The company has not said how it plans to return to the issue in India. Mr. Zuckerberg has said the company “is still committed” to connecting Indians online. In his post on Wednesday, the chief executive added that he looked “forward to strengthening my connection to the country.”
A spokeswoman for Mr. Andreessen did not immediately respond to a request for comment. On Wednesday morning, Mr. Andreessen posted new tweets in which he apologized for his previous comments, an apology he later repeated. “I now withdraw from all future discussions of Indian economics and politics, and leave them to people with more knowledge and experience!” he wrote.