Digital activism depends on net neutrality
Editor’s note: Jonathan Perri is the North American Director of Campaigns & Partnerships at Change.org.
Last month, Change.org reached a milestone of 200 million people having signed or started a petition on our platform in the last 10 years. We’ve always viewed our free petition tools as a resource for the underdogs, the Davids fighting Goliaths to make the world a better place. That’s why we strongly oppose Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan to end net neutrality.
Change.org does not take positions on many issues — we believe that’s best left to the people who use our platform, and that it’s our mission to provide the tools that empower them to tell their own stories to make a difference in the world. At the same time, we recognize that as the world’s largest online petition platform, we can’t continue that mission if a few powerful corporations are given the ability to amplify some voices and censor others.
We frequently see petitions directed to corporations asking them to change business practices, including internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon. Jennifer Tyrrell, a Cub Scout leader who was kicked out of her troop because she was gay, successfully petitioned AT&T, whose CEO sat on the Boy Scouts of America board, to urge the organization to allow LGBTQ leaders and troops. Nearly 200,000 people used a petition to convince Verizon to end early contract termination fees for victims of domestic violence who shared accounts with their abusers. Thousands of consumers signed petitions opposing the attempted Comcast and Time Warner merger.
Without net neutrality, those ISPs would have the power to block their customers from visiting those petitions or slow the delivery of websites run by the organizers behind them, significantly impacting petitions, fundraisers, and educational content.
This is a key time for digital activism. President Trump’s election, climate change disasters, the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements, and immigration reform have all sparked massive online protests. We’ve seen incredible innovation from groups like Indivisible, Fight for the Future, and the ACLU building powerful tools and websites that make it easier than ever before to pressure your representatives in Congress — type in your ZIP code and phone number, and your phone will be connected to an office with just a few clicks.
“It’s a form of democracy, not unlike the right to vote or speak up at a town hall, that should be protected, not attacked.”
Without net neutrality, a member of Congress with friends in high places at Verizon, who is being flooded with phone calls from constituents driven by one of those tools, could potentially call in a favor to have that site throttled or blocked.
Net neutrality levels the playing field so that anyone with any idea or story, regardless of how much money they have, will be able to share it, just by having access to the internet. The possibility of platforms or organizations being charged more for content delivery through “fast lanes” or “prioritization” undermines this. It’s a form of democracy, not unlike the right to vote or speak up at a town hall, that should be protected, not attacked.
Protecting these principles is so important to Change.org, that we’ve joined the Battle for the Net coalition alongside companies like Amazon, Kickstarter, Netflix, and Twitter. We also launched our own petition, something we haven’t done before, and more than 1 million people have now signed.
We’re just one part of a massive movement that Pai is ignoring with his proposal, which will be voted on Dec. 14. This movement has driven millions of comments to the FCC during its open comment period, millions of emails and phone calls to Congress, and millions of petition signatures all supporting net neutrality. And polling shows that American voters from both political parties support the current net neutrality rules.
There are certainly a multitude of opinions on how net neutrality could be best preserved and protected. And the Obama administration reclassifying internet providers as “common carriers” under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, which subjected them to the tough regulations around blocking and throttling that are currently in place, may not be the perfect or even long-term answer.
But given the overwhelming concern from the public about Pai’s approach, the FCC Chairman is missing an opportunity to work toward a better, bipartisan solution, while carrying the real potential to hurt free speech on the internet at a time when organizations and individuals are building some of the most important and exciting movements in history.
Jonathan Perri is the North American Director of Campaigns & Partnerships at Change.org. He has built some of the largest digital advocacy campaigns in the world, driving millions of actions on issues like criminal justice reform, disability rights, and internet privacy. He helps manage a team of campaigners who give people the tools to turn their stories into movements. @_jonperri
WATCH: What is net neutrality?