Several advocacy groups have used the open Internet to organize online campaigns to protest against racism, hate speech and unfair treatment of immigrants. For example, Color of Change, an online advocacy organization, uses the open Internet as a tool to empower the black community to speak out against injustice and to make government more responsive to its concerns. The immigrant-rights group Presente has organized online campaigns to challenge inhumane immigration policies. Colorlines, a daily news website that focuses on racial justice, relies on the open Internet as a platform to report on critical stories often ignored by the mainstream media.
But this may all come to an end.
On Jan. 14, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that ISPs such as Verizon and AT&T can censor, block and interfere with Web traffic and content online. The court struck down the Federal Communication Commission’s 2010 Open Internet order, which was intended to provide Internet users with some protection to access the content of their choice online without interference.
Verizon sued the FCC in 2011 following the passage of those rules. The telecom giant argued that, like newspapers, ISPs should have the First Amendment right to “edit” the Internet and determine what content flows over their wires.
With Verizon’s triumph, there’s nothing stopping ISPs from becoming our Internet overlords. And if you believe what Verizon told the court, that day is coming.
Asked by federal judges whether Verizon planned to prioritize some websites and online services over others, the company’s lawyer said last year that her client would be “exploring those types of arrangements” if it weren’t for the FCC rules.
There’s nothing holding back Verizon and other ISPs now. They have the power to determine whose voices will be heard online and which ones will be silenced. They also have the power to block unpopular speech. And this may mean the silencing the voices of those fighting for social and racial justice — especially the voices of people of color.