Reddit, Netflix, Mozilla and thousands of others are taking part in a public outcry over US cable companies’ attempted power-grab
The “spinning wheel of death”. We all hate it. But you may be seeing it a lot on the internet today. That’s because today is the Internet Slowdown, a web-wide uprising against one of the most blatant cases of potential injustice in the history of the net.
Cable companies in the US are lobbying the government to destroy net neutrality, the basic underlying principle that has made the internet so awesome. It’s a classic power-grab; corporate behemoths want to lock down the web and make it more like Cable TV, where they get to choose which content gets seen by the most people (or seen at all). It’s a move that threatens not just the future of the internet economy, but the future of free speech, free press, and democracy.
Here’s the good news: the internet has been taking self-defence classes, and we’ve got quite good at staving off grave and imminent threats to online freedom. After months of organising, a broad and unlikely coalition of internet users, activist groups and major websites have banded together to declare today a mass day of action to show the world what the internet might look like if Team Cable gets their way and convinces the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to help them gut net neutrality.
Throughout today, thousands of websites, including many you know and love like Etsy, Kickstarter, Netflix, Reddit, Mozilla, Foursquare, Namecheap, Meetup, Upworthy and Vimeo, will display prominent messages (or “widgets”) on their home pages featuring that dreaded spinning “Loading…” symbol that always seems to pop up during the cliffhanger moment in the video you’re streaming. The sites taking part in the slowdown will help to reach millions of people and direct internet users to take action at BattleForTheNet.com, a one stop action site that makes it easy to flood decision makers with comments, emails, and phone calls.
So how can you participate? If you’ve got a website, blog or Tumblr, there’s still time to get the code and add the Internet Slowdown animated widgets to your site. If not, show your support for the slowdown by changing your profile picture to one of these spinning “Loading…” icons, and posting on social media. Better yet, make your own gifs, graphics, and action tools and share them with the internet using #InternetSlowdown.
Most importantly, talk to your friends and family about what the free and open internet means to you, and encourage them to read up and get active.
This is about so much more than how fast or slow websites load. History has shown that if a system can be used to censor and marginalise dissenting and alternative voices, it will be. Net neutrality is the secret ingredient that makes the web a level playing field where everyone has a voice. It says that all websites are created equal, and that you should have reliable access to every single thing the web has to offer, whether you’re clicking links on a mainstream news site, binging on cat videos or reading your favourite political blog.
Most importantly, net neutrality is about free speech, and preventing powerful interests from discriminating against, censoring, slowing down and blocking content on the internet.
The unstoppable momentum of today’s Internet Slowdown is just a reflection of public outcry that has been simmering since the FCC first announced its proposal to allow for a “tiered” (read: divided) internet. We’ve bombarded them with petitions, camped out in tents on their doorstep, and John Oliver of course crashed their website.
It has been widely reported that more than 99% of the comments the FCC has received thus far broadly support net neutrality. If the FCC chooses to move ahead with a proposal that benefits cable executives while undermining public interest, then public comment periods are meaningless, and the FCC exposes itself as an agency that has no legitimacy.
Government agencies like the FCC should take heed: hell hath no fury like the internet scorned. Growing numbers of people are distrustful of the US government’s actions from NSA surveillance to police militarisation. Thanks to the internet, governments can’t get away with stuff quite the way they used to. There is rebellion brewing online and off.
If cable CEOs and their close buddies at the FCC shut their ears to those rumblings, they may find themselves on the run from an angry internet public that will settle for nothing less than a free, uncensored, and sometimes truly weird, internet.
Today is a historic day in the fight for internet freedom. I hope to see you in the digital streets demanding real net neutrality.
Evan Greer is campaign manager at Fight for the Future. You can follow her on Twitter @evan_greer.