11 Ways Repealing Net Neutrality Would Devastate Marginalized Voices
If the Federal Communications Commission's decision to repeal net neutrality rules left you wondering how this will affect your everyday life, you weren't alone. While the possibility of buffering TV shows or paying to use Snapchat and Instagram might seem like a nightmare (a #FirstWorldProblems kind of nightmare), more importantly, the end of net neutrality could also affect marginalized voices in disproportionate ways. And that goes regardless of their political affiliation.
An open and undiscriminating internet network helped grassroots organizations mobilize, given ordinary citizens platforms for whistleblowing, and ushered in technological solutions to social problems. With restrictions on access to social media, could the 2017 Women's March have reached its nearly 3 million strong crowd? What about community journalism in rural America that, unlike legacy publications, could struggle to pay for the internet fast lane?
And then there are startups that need a fighting chance in the market. Examples include Appolition, an app which collects bail money for the incarcerated — a disproportionate number of which are black men, and 7 Cups, which provides free online therapists — a service that could benefit people with mental health problems who don't have the money or mobility for the traditional medical system.
Under the protection of net neutrality rules, websites and online services have equal access to the vast internet network controlled by broadband providers, the companies who collect your monthly internet bill. Without net neutrality rules, critics say broadband providers could become gatekeepers to information, blocking or give preferential treatment to certain websites or services. It is not certain what exactly telecommunication companies could do if they were given that power, but after Thursday's vote, we might soon find out.
Below are 11 ways marginalized voices have benefited from the internet so far to show what's at stake for them with the repeal of net neutrality rules.
1. Black Lives Matter
The Black Lives Matter movement is a prime example of decentralized civil rights organization in the internet age. The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter started when labor organizer Alicia Garza responded on her Facebook page to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, a neighborhood volunteer who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
It has since become the rallying call for the protest against police brutality and systematic violence toward black people. People are urging police departments to hold their officers accountable, in part because of viral videos, like NYPD putting Eric Garner is a deadly chokehold, or a woman who live-streamed on Facebook the dying moments of her boyfriend Philando Castile.
2. Disabled Workers
Working remotely isn't just for digital nomads and Instagram influencers. For the mentally or physically disabled, remote work and e-commerce provide more opportunities to build a career. Jobs that can be done at home with a stable internet connection and equal access to services gets rid of transportation problems for people who are physically handicapped, for example.
3. Youth Activism
From millennials to the next generation, the youngest voters are online and savvy with social media. As millennials tend to be more progressive than their parents, they represent a crucial voting demographic that could help diversify our swath of policymakers — that is, if they show up to vote.
4. Native American Rights
The Dakota Access Pipeline became the battleground for Native Americans who wanted to protect their home and drinking water. But the Standing Rock community wasn't alone. Thanks to social media users, #NoDAPL and #IStandWithStandingRock trended online. The increased attention then popularized in mainstream media the pipeline protest and overall subject of Native American rights.
5. Media Representation
In golden age of TV, we're seeing more people from underrepresented groups appearing in our favorite shows — and not just in supporting roles. We're also seeing diverse storylines break stereotypes for women and people of color.
Insecure, the HBO comedy created by and starring Issa Rae, gave us an awkward and modern black heroine to root for. In 2014, Laverne Cox became the first transgender woman nominated for an Emmy for her role in Netflix's Orange Is the New Black. In 2016, two Asian-American writers, Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang, picked up an Emmy and a Critics Choice Television Award for Netflix's Master of None.
In the last couple of years, we also saw Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale, a staunchly feminist story, and Amazon's Transparent, a transgender comedy, nab major awards. Equal access to TV shows with diverse representation could suffer in the wake of the FCC repealing net neutrality rules.
6. #MeToo And The Sexual Harassment Reckoning
A few brave women and a hashtag gone viral galvanized the oppressed against the oppressor in this David vs. Goliath movement. As accusations of sexual misconduct took down movie mogul Harvey Weinstein (allegations which he has denied), the floodgates opened. Women across various industries, from entertainment to politics, came out on social media to share their #MeToo stories. These allegations of sexual assault and harassment have taken individual men out of positions of power and fueled a nationwide discussion about inappropriate workplace behavior, hush money transparency, and accountability.
Although the #MeToo hashtag didn't go viral until 2017, Tarana Burke started the awareness movement in 2006 with a MySpace page.
7. Online Education
For working and single moms trying to go back to school, online education provides a flexible way to fit getting a degree into their schedule. For example, about 70 percent of the students enrolled at the Indiana University-Purdue University-Fort Wayne online programs are women.
8. LGBTQ Inclusion
The internet has helped the LGBTQ community organize for policy change and reach out to people who might otherwise be struggling with their sexuality alone. Websites like The Advocate provide news and commentary about issues that specifically affect the LGBTQ community. YouTube star Tyler Oakley has become a prominent figure in the campaign to prevent suicide among LGBTQ youth. And for straight cis people who want to become better allies, online media outlets have plenty of advice to offer.
9. Body Acceptance
The body acceptance and body positivity movement found a home on Instagram. Sure, there are plenty of the standard thin white women you will find in most movies, magazines, advertisements, etc., but anyone can open an Instagram account, which means you'll have a better chance finding people of all body types, from mothers sharing their pregnancy stretch marks to women talking candidly about their recovery from an eating disorder.
10. Immigration Services
The internet has provided platforms for allies to help undocumented immigrants know their rights and also protest. Take for example Trump's consideration to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, DACA, which shields qualified undocumented youth from deportation. Undocumented youth went online to share their stories and place a face on the statistics. The closed Facebook group DEFERRED ACTION gives members a way to assist undocumented youth in applying for deferred action. The group Pre-Health Dreamers addressed in a video how undocumented youth can help fill in the shortage of health care professionals.
11. Human Rights Watchdogs
But beyond the United States, unfettered access to online media has allowed us to access otherwise ignored human rights abuses and marginalized voices around the globe, like when CNN broke a report on the human slave auction in Libya, or major media outlets turned the world's attention to the Rohingya persecution in Myanmar.
Merriam-Webster defines "to marginalize" as "to relegate to an unimportant or powerless position within a society of group." Thanks to the internet, marginalized groups and their supporters have access to tools to speak up for themselves and propel their causes. Repealing net neutrality could restrict the flow of information that's vital for these movements to survive, and prevent similar movements from taking place in the future.