Net Neutrality Repeal Would Hurt #MeToo Movement And Minority Women

Net neutrality advocates rally in front of the Federal Communications Commission in Washington Yuri Gripas

A federal government plan to roll-back an Obama-era internet rule designed to level the online playing field would result in censorship on the web that would disproportionately affect women and minorities, experts said.

The Federal Communications Commission will vote Thursday to end so-called net neutrality, which ensures internet service providers give consumers equal access to all content and do not favor or discriminate against certain sources or users.

The internet—unlike print and television media outlets—currently works as a way around gatekeepers. Consumers can get the information they want at the exact time they want it. But this could soon change. Critics fear the expected approval of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's proposal would allow broadband providers to favor "popular" content and slow or block others they may find controversial.

"The open Internet has allowed women to bypass traditional patriarchal gatekeepers in media and the economy to speak for themselves and gain access to opportunities and income streams that might otherwise be unavailable to them," Malkia Cyril, the executive director of The Center for Media Justice, told Newsweek. "A repeal ... will open the door for a heightened level of online discrimination and censorship that can only reduce voice and opportunity for women."

The censoring of online content by broadband providers such as AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon could have an impact on the way in which we hear about and read women's stories.

In January, a grandmother in Hawaii basically initiated the Women’s March with a single Facebook post—but under the proposed rule change, an internet service provider could have narrowed her ability to get traffic, effectively censoring her message to the broad online community seeking it.

Other sites or posts seen as controversial or unpopular to the service providers could be similarly shrunk, critics say.

FCC Chairman Pai believes the market will do a better job than the government at regulating the Internet. He claims a roll-back on net neutrality would create a "free and open Internet," which would then incentivize network investments and "ultimately benefit even more consumers going forward."

The Internet has given women an unfiltered medium and unlimited audience they previously did not have. But it's minority women who could be affected the most by the FCC decision, according to Cyril.

"Key movements for justice were launched by black women. The Black Lives Matter Network was co-founded by three black women, whose voices may not reach an audience on a tiered, censored Internet," Cyril believes.

The #MeToo twitter trend, which was started by an African American woman 10 years ago, began with a simple hashtag—one that might never have led to the ongoing national reckoning over sexual harassment if an internet service provider had been able to squelch it.

Many who disagree with the roll-back have utilized the internet while they still can by speaking out against eliminating the regulations.

Reddit users have taken over the site to express their concerns, many with net neutrality-specific memes.

Others have taken to Twitter.

“The FCC vote allowing your ISP to lock huge parts of the internet behind caps and paywalls is tomorrow. Today is the last day to pressure Congress to stop this. Get your reps’ numbers. Melt their phones. #NetNeutrality," Edward Snowden warned.

Actor and activist Alyssa Milano called out Pai for attacking her, Cher and Mark Ruffalo in a speech. “Funny thing happened yesterday, @AjitPaiFCC attacked me for using my voice to speak out against his plan to kill #NetNeutrality and the internet as we know it," she said.

The vote on net neutrality will take place Thursday night, despite a last-minute effort to delay the decision.

“For women, the rollback of net neutrality will hit especially hard. That’s because women nationwide are using the power of the Internet to organize, share stories, and build businesses in droves,” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand co-wrote in a Refinery29 essay Tuesday.