The prospect of the repeal of net neutrality in the U.S. is terrifying, and its effects would be felt well north of the 49th parallel (globally, really). There’s been plenty of news coverage, running the gamut of rhetorical skill, knowledge proficiency, and political agenda.
If some small good can come from this debacle, it’s that some of the coverage provides an interesting and educational look at how to address, engage, and educate an audience.
None of the examples that follow are from pro-repeal writers. Because honestly.
Of course, we need some good ’ol clickbait, so let’s start with this dredged-up piece on the lack of net neutrality in Portugal that’s making the rounds. In truth, though, the tiered system of internet access mentioned in that article only applies to mobile, and Portugal is subject to broader EU-wide laws as well. But hey, they tried.
A lot of coverage was just rather generic and dry. It might appeal to a specific professional or technical audience, but can be a slog for the average online reader. See this Wired article with its depth of detail and numbers or Gizmodo’s “the day after” legal take. Plus, a vague “it ain’t over til it’s over” ending doesn’t really satisfy or provide a call to action.
This op-ed from the LA Times is compelling, in no small part because the writer is Jessica Rosenworcel: a lawyer, Democrat, net neutrality champion, and FCC Commissioner. She writes, in part, about the scrutiny of comments made by citizens to the FCC on net neutrality and an ensuing investigation:
What happened to 50,000 comments that seem to have gone missing? How did dead people allegedly post comments? And how much of the response was legitimate and how many comments were made by bots?
Americans, she writes, should get angry about the usual implications of the loss of net neutrality, but also because someone might have been messing with their right to be heard. (You don’t tell Americans what to do and you don’t try to prevent them from doing what they want.)
The Globe and Mail paints a bleak step-by-step picture of the progression of the death of democracy in the U.S. if net neutrality is repealed. It strikes at the heart of fears held by those involved in political resistance movements against the current administration. (Which includes everyone from suburban moms in pink knitted hats to Juggalos…)
After neutrality’s repeal comes “packing of the courts with conservative extremists who legal scholars worry will decimate constitutional rights.” Then voter suppression and the inability to properly share information about or document it. Resulting in disenfranchisement of already marginalized groups: the poor, non-whites, immigrants, etc.
Even if that hasn’t fully happened yet, it’s believable and scary because it ties events that could happen to similar things that the U.S. administration has already done.
Smaller and more personal stories can be as effective as painting broad portraits of oppressive dystopias. Musician Will Meyer wrote about using online services to connect with audiences and promote and sell music. Then he deftly linked that to the net neutrality fight.
He addressed growing issues with how social platforms no longer work to connect artists with audiences:
“I ditched Facebook (the first time) because, to me, it represents a type of uninspired internet that leeches our data, privacy, and art in pursuit of making Mark Zuckerberg and his shareholders very rich.”
He explains how the best marketing is now reserved for those with multi-million dollar promotions budgets, largely pushing out small, independent artists like himself. And then he ties it to what’s potentially going to happen to the entire country with initiatives like the repeal of net neutrality:
“But the truth is Facebook isn’t free. We pay with our data and we must pay with our dollars if we want the algorithm to take our bands seriously. This is exactly what the Trump administration hopes to do to the entire internet: sell all of our browsing history to better target us with ads and then create an internet ‘fast lane’ for those who can afford it.”
More doom and gloom, but he does end on a more positive note of resistance about how net neutrality and artists need each other. And how average folks and artists need to support each other, too. (Very true.)
But the one specific take that hit below the belt most effectively (pun intended – you’ll see) wasn’t from a major media outlet. It was a data-heavy post on Medium. (And more infographics!)
I am referring to Sharlene King’s “Are you ready to pay for porn?” Now we’re getting into the real Internet.
Sure, those other articles talk about social media access and streaming movies and such. But what movies do you think get streamed the most? Since most people don’t pay for porn, we don’t tend to think about it in terms of Internet traffic or resources. But porn is estimated to account for 30-40% of online data.
I read the whole article and still can’t wrap my brain around the scale of that. Let’s just say size really does matter.
Just think of how ISPs and other invested companies must be salivating at the idea of the gargantuan profits when they can finally monetize that white whale. Worth just about any amount of lobbying dollars, no?
Of course, the toll on consumers would be potentially devastating far beyond their wallets:
“In some database of billing history will be your name, your address, and your method of payment tied to what you watched. Let me be clear, I’m saying you can be identified and so can your porn.
“Is that a risk you’re willing to take? Are your closeted relatives ready for their cable company to put “Daddy Diaper Time” on a billing statement?”
Yup, not only could big, faceless corporations control your access to porn and charge whatever they wanted for it, they could ruin your life and reveal your deepest secrets all in the name of “Protecting Internet Freedom” or whatever nonsense name the repeal act was given.
Here endeth the lesson. No matter what the issue, but especially when democracy itself is at stake (and your ability to pirate Game of Thrones), you need to know your audience; you need to make the issue hit home for real people; and you have to be able to bring data to life.
And hey, if Bell has their way, you might get an opportunity to practice right here in Canada.
M-Theory is an opinion column by Melanie Baker. Opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Communitech. Melle can be reached @melle or firstname.lastname@example.org.