Social media and online platforms have allowed the public to closely track the mounting absurdity and violence of the Trump-era. We’ve followed the president’s volatile outbursts on Twitter, witnessed horrific videos of the Las Vegas shooting and participated in narratives of sexual assault allegations and transparency – which have been powerfully controlled by women. We’ve used social media as a mechanism for political organizing. It has allowed students and activists to boost participation in protests, boycotts and political campaigns. In recent years, the Internet has made racial violence more visible and immediate. Our generation has come of age in a time where videos of police murdering Black men are a reality. When the justice system fails vulnerable communities, many turn to social media to organize and facilitate a coherent political response.
Under the leadership of Ajit Pai, the Trump-appointed chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, the administration is proposing to roll-back the net neutrality regulation. Net neutrality, which was passed by the agency in 2015, is intended to ensure that all online content would be treated equally by Internet providers.
We’ve seen how government control of the flow of information and discourse in other countries aggressively attack freedom of speech and the ability to participate in politics. The movement that is currently in the works to repeal net neutrality sends a resounding message that we are ready to accept a fully corporatized Internet.
Part of the fear surrounding this conversation is that we have no way of knowing how the repeal of net neutrality will change our daily lives, or what this will look like. Journalists and other commentators have written that it’s possible the repeal will result in slower Internet service, or expensive Internet packages that require people to choose how they’ll prioritize their Internet use. If the Internet becomes explicitly corporatized, free online content will likely target low-income people. This means that heavily biased news sites might be the only websites that are freely accessible. In this scenario, independent publications, local news sources and specialized publications that are led by and for people of color would be threatened. There would be no reason for Internet providers not to give priority to large news corporations, effectively inhibiting how we access information.
Furthermore, activists and community organizers of color would be adversely impacted. How would the movement for racial justice be set back if the rapid-fire diffusion of information were threatened? How would organizing movements be hindered? While this discussion dominates the national dialogue, it’s critical that we address the existing phenomena of online surveillance of undocumented people. The Internet is already being used as a tool of government surveillance, oftentimes used to police people of color.
Net neutrality is fundamental for journalists and organizers of color to hold structures of power accountable to the people.