Net neutrality doesn’t initially sound like a vital feminist and social justice issue, particularly since it’s typically been framed through boring white dude tech speak as a fairly abstract idea instead of something real and concrete that directly impacts online organizing. Even the biggest nerds’ eyes glaze over during discussions of how fast data moves through teh series of tubes. But when the Federal Communications Commission votes on net neutrality on Thursday, it could spell the end of the feminist internet as we know it.
As Carla Murphy succinctly explains over at Colorlines:
All traffic whether Bentley or hoopty currently runs on the same massive highway, but critics say the proposed rule change will create a special lane for consumers and content creators able to pay for faster service and a slow lane for those who can’t. Many are calling the FCC plan, up for a vote this Thursday May 15th, the end of “net neutrality,” which says that online, all data should be treated equally regardless of who produces it.
The open internet has been an invaluable tool for advancing feminist and social justice thought and action. 10 years ago when Feministing was founded you simply didn’t find young feminist voices in the media. This site was started without any investors, who aren’t interested in “women’s websites” (something we’re not) if they’re focused on social justice instead of celebrity nip slips. We’re run on a shoestring budget, with our whole crew working from home (or working from their day jobs when the boss isn’t looking) and no one getting paid decently for their work (which we very much need your help to change). The challenges faced by a feminist publication dedicated to social justice are very real. But because of the open internet Feministing, along with many other sites and individuals agitating on the Twitters and everywhere else, have been able to do incredible things. We’ve inserted feminist voices into mainstream media conversations about politics, work, pop culture, and everything else. We’ve used this platform to do work that has a very real world impact, from getting offensive victim blaming ad campaigns taken down to getting the White House to issue guidance on campus sexual assault. A whole social justice internet has risen up and become a major organizing force, flooding the Texas capitol with abortion rights supporters, shaping mainstream conversations by taking away the soapbox from bigots like Lou Dobbs and replacing him with young, badass, social justice-oriented folks, and more.
This could all end with the net neutrality vote.
It won’t be instantaneous. But if the internet splits into two lanes of traffic, one premium and one for the poor folks who can’t pay (ie anyone who’s not a massive megacorporation), publications like Feministing will get marginalized. Oh sure, there will still be a feminist internet. But the most accessible version of it will probably be something along the lines of a feminist site created by Sheryl Sandberg. Just imagine, “internet feminism” would no longer mean a diverse, intersectional, activist-oriented movement for social justice. Instead, “internet feminism” would = assimilation into traditional patriarchal power structures in ways that maintain the status quo and do nothing to dismantle the extreme oppression of a growing underclass that’s the massive majority in late stage capitalism. All of our hard work using the open internet as a tool to lift up marginalized voices and issues could be replaced by an internet that’s even more in the grip of those at the top of cruel social and economic hierarchies than legacy media was before we used the interwebs to shake the whole damn thing up. And the ripple effects of this could be huge, as folks agitating for change lose their access to a megaphone, and media gets solidified as the voice of those with power in an oligarchy without space for dissent.
In other words, we could be totally fucked.
It’s not too late to act, though. The FCC will be voting on Thursday, May 15, and they’re taking public comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. FCC special counsel Gigi Sohn will also be holding a Twitter chat about net neutrality at 2pm EST today. Let the FCC know how vital an open internet is to you, and that we sure as hell aren’t willing to give it up.
Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing.