Net neutrality advocates rallied outside the Lincoln, Nebraska office of Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) on July 13, 2018 to urge him to support a measure that would restore net neutrality protections nationwide. (Photo: @IndivisibleLNK/Twitter)
At the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, oral arguments in Mozilla v. FCC were heard. In that suit, which The Vergeframes as “one of the most important cases in internet law history,” technology and advocacy groups joined by over 20 state attorneys general challenge the FCC’s 2017 gutting of net neutrality. Continue reading →
Accusing Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan of thwarting the will of the public by attempting to block lawmakers’ efforts to restore overwhelmingly popular net neutrality protections—which will officially be repealed on June 11th—the entire Senate Democratic caucus sent a letter to Ryan on Thursday demanding that he end his “obstruction” and immediately schedule a vote to preserve the open internet.
“It is incumbent on the House of Representatives to listen to the voices of consumers, including the millions of Americans who supported the FCC’s 2015 net neutrality order, and keep the internet free and open for all,” the Senate Democrats write, urging Ryan to take up a Congressional Review Act (CRA) measure they passed last month with the help of three Republicans. Continue reading →
“Today the Senate has taken a giant step toward unwinding the least-popular policy decision in the history of the FCC,” Free Press President Craig Aaron said in a statement. (Photo: Free Press/Twitter)
“We will finally force lawmakers to let us know if they stand with the 85 percent of Americans who support net neutrality—or with the cable companies that want to manipulate the internet in service of greater profits.”
Momentum is building as open internet advocates and internet companies urge senators to overrule the FCC’s unpopular repeal of net neutrality rules. (Photo: Free Press/Flickr/cc)
In less than a week, senators will be able to officially voice their support for overruling the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) December ruling on net neutrality—and momentum was building among advocates and internet companies on Thursday ahead of a huge online demonstration to push lawmakers to reverse the FCC’s decision.
“Now every member of Congress will have to go on the record and decide whether to stand up for the free and open internet or face the political consequences of awakening its wrath in an election year,” said Fight for the Future in a statement. (Photo: Fight for the Future)
The Republican-controlled FCC voted along party lines on Thursday to repeal net neutrality, but open internet defenders are urging the public to not be swayed by the proliferation of “net neutrality is officially dead” headlines—the fight is “not over,” they say.
Just hours after the FCC’s vote, the coalition of activist groups behind Team Internet and BattlefortheNet.com announced the launch of “a massive internet-wide campaign” calling on members of Congress to overturn the FCC’s move by passing a Resolution of Disapproval under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which only requires a simple majority in the House and Senate. Continue reading →
At one of hundreds of protests last week, net neutrality supporters in New York City demanded that the FCC abandon its plan to repeal net neutrality protections. (Photo: TeamInternet/Flickr/cc)
Thirty-seven Democratic senators, along with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), sent a letter (pdf) to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Tuesday, urging the panel to abandon its “reckless plan to radically alter the free and open Internet as we know it.”
If pushed through, the letter warns, the move, spearheaded by Trump’s FCC chairman Ajit Pai, “would amount to the largest abdication of [the agency’s] statutory responsibilities in history.”
Protesters gathered at a Verizon store in MIssion Viejo, California on Thursday to demand the FCC uphold net neutrality rules. The demonstration was one of hundreds held all over the country. (Photo: Brendan Cleak—Team Internet/Flickr/cc)
Calls grew over the weekend for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to investigate potential fraud regarding its call for public comments on net neutrality—before the panel votes on the issue on Thursday.
At Wired, FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel—one of two Democrats on the commission who are expected to vote against a net neutrality repeal—raised alarm with an editorial about the integrity of the 23 million comments that have been left on the FCC’s website. Continue reading →
“Ajit Pai may be owned by Verizon, but he has to answer to Congress, and lawmakers have to answer to us, their constituents,” said Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future. (Photo: Battle for the Net)
This is the free speech fight of our generation and internet users are pissed off and paying attention,” Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future, said in a statement. “Ajit Pai may be owned by Verizon, but he has to answer to Congress, and lawmakers have to answer to us, their constituents.” Continue reading →
“This is exactly why we need Title II net neutrality protections that ban blocking, throttling, and censorship,” said Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future. (Photo: Alyson Hurt/cc/flickr)
Open Internet proponents who have been fighting the Trump administration’s rollback of net neutrality protections, which has been enacted at the bidding of the telecom industry, said Tuesday that Comcast is now threatening legal action saying the website Comcastroturf.com is infringing on its trademark.
As the organization Fight for the Future quipped on Twitter, “You can’t make this stuff up.”
The website in question is currently providing a tool for the public to see if their names are among those stolen and used by anti-net neutrality bots to post comments in support of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plan to undo Title II protections that classify the internet as a public utility. Continue reading →
The U.S. State Department has allocated tens of millions of dollars to promote internet freedom, primarily in the area of censorship circumvention. And just this month, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution declaring internet freedom a fundamental human right. The resolution condemns internet shutdowns by national governments, an act that has become increasingly common in variety of countries across the globe, including Turkey, Brazil, India and Uganda.
On the surface, this policy makes sense. The internet is an intuitive boon for democracy. It provides citizens around the world with greater freedom of expression, opportunities for civil society, education and political participation. And previous research, including our own, has been optimistic about the internet’s democratic potential.
However, this optimism is based on the assumption that citizens who gain internet access use it to expose themselves to new information, engage in political discussions, join social media groups that advocate for worthy causes and read news stories that change their outlook on the world.
And some do.
But others watch Netflix. They use the internet to post selfies to an intimate group of friends. They gain access to an infinite stream of music, movies and television shows. They spend hours playing video games.
However, our recent research shows that tuning out from politics and immersing oneself in online spectacle has political consequences for the health of democracy.
The power of distraction
Political use of the internet ranks very low globally, compared to other uses. Research has found that just 9 percent of internet users posted links to political news and only 10 percent posted their own thoughts about political or social issues. In contrast, almost three-quarters (72 percent) say they post about movies and music, and over half (54 percent) also say they post about sports online.
This inspired our study, which sought to show how the internet does not necessarily serve as democracy’s magical solution. Instead, its democratic potential is highly dependent on how citizens choose to use it.
The study was situated in two nondemocracies, Russia and Ukraine. The two share a common history, geography and culture. Both rank well above the global average of 48 percent of internet penetration. More than 70 percent of Russians and 60 percent of Ukrainians reportedly use the internet.
The results of our study revealed the internet’s double-edged sword. Citizens who used the internet for news and political information were more likely to express greater criticism about their country’s autocratic political institutions and leaders. As a consequence, they were more likely to demand greater democratic reforms.
But, when used differently, the internet can actually harm democratization efforts. Those who spent more of their online time engaging with entertainment content were more satisfied with living under autocratic conditions. These users were happy with the authoritarian elites who oversaw them and were uninspired by the prospects of greater freedom. In other words, online political use enhanced democratic attitudes, while online entertainment use entrenched authoritarian ones.
And it gets worse.
Tamping down political interest
It seems the world’s most shrewd authoritarian leaders have predicted these consequences. They have implemented policies that greatly restrict the internet’s political benefits while enabling a rich entertainment culture that carefully sidesteps political issues.
For example, since 2012, Russia has precipitously increased its censorship of political opposition websites and has recently engaged in consultations with Chinese censorship experts to curtail it even further. In China’s tightly controlled online environment, even entertainment content is carefully screened for subversive messages. Unsurprisingly, both Russia and China did not support the UNHRC human rights resolution guaranteeing citizens unfettered access to the internet.
However, censoring political content is only part of the authoritarian’s “online toolkit.” As we have discussed previously at The Conversation, authoritarian governments seek to create a “psychological firewall” that paints the internet as a scary world full of political threats. This rationale increases threat perceptions among the public. This, in turn, increases the public’s support for online political censorship. These threat perceptions also further motivate audiences to seek “safe” entertainment content rather than “risky” news and information.
When this approach proves unsuccessful, authoritarian regimes instead turn to even more overt scare tactics. Under President Erdogan, the Turkish government has created an aggressive program of legal, political and economic intimidation targeting not only journalists but also average citizens. As a consequence at least one-third of Turkish internet users are afraid to openly discuss politics online. This trend will likely only become worse as the Turkish government carries out its purge of political opponents in the wake of the failed coup.
Ensuring citizens have access to the internet is not sufficient to ensure democracy and human rights. In fact, internet access may negatively impact democracy if exploited for authoritarian gain.
The U.S. government, NGOs and other democracy advocates have invested a great deal of time and resources toward promoting internet access, fighting overt online censorship and creating circumvention technologies. Yet their success, at best, has been limited.
The reason is twofold. First, authoritarian governments have adapted their own strategies in response. Second, the “if we build it, they will come” philosophy underlying a great deal of internet freedom promotion doesn’t take into account basic human psychology in which entertainment choices are preferred over news and attitudes toward the internet determine its use, not the technology itself.
Allies in the internet freedom fight should realize that the locus of the fight has shifted. Greater efforts must be put toward tearing down “psychological firewalls,” building demand for internet freedom and influencing citizens to employ the internet’s democratic potential.
Doing so ensures that the democratic online toolkit is a match for the authoritarian one.