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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

We will not be silenced: net neutrality and the Black community

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When a California-based activist posted the phrase #BlackLivesMatter on social media in 2013, she had no way of knowing her sentiment would launch one of the biggest movements of our time. From #TakeAKnee to #MeToo, the internet continues to change the way we talk about activism and mobilize to pursue it. 

That’s why when the Trump administration voted to repeal net neutrality protections, experts voiced concern that Blacks and minorities would be most impacted. The American Civil Liberties Union, for example, called preserving the openness of the internet one of the “foremost free speech issues of our time” and Malkia Cyril, founder and executive director of the Center for Media Justice in California, has said the repeal will silence Black voices.

Willie Kingori, chief operating officer of Black Men in Tech

Wait. Slow down. What is Net Neutrality?

Net Neutrality forbids internet service providers (ISPs) such as Comcast, AT&T or Verizon from speeding up, slowing down or blocking content, applications and websites. Without those protections, ISPs can legally interfere with data, restrict access to content they dislike or charge extra fees to companies that can afford to pay for preferential treatment online. 

“(Without net neutrality) your ISP can charge one price to Netflix, another to Amazon and a third price to Joe’s blog,” said Max Huffman, a professor of law at IUPUI. “At the simplest level, with the absence of net neutrality, the material you will get on the Internet will be the material that can pay the most to get to you. Netflix will be fine. Amazon will be fine. What isn’t going to get to you is someone who doesn’t have a lot of money behind his or her project.”

Supporters of net neutrality believe it keeps the web open and equal, while opponents of net neutrality protections see it as a government overreach that doesn’t offer ISPs enough freedom. 

Impact on the Black community 

A growing number of African-Americans are using the web to bypass industry gatekeepers and to share their own content about the Black community. One such entrepreneur is Darren Harris, who co-founded the Pann-African News Network (panntv.com) to help Blacks share breaking news. 

Harris is against the repeal of net neutrality because he feels it gives web providers the power to make select websites and information harder to find. 

Willie Kingori, chief operating officer of Black Men in Tech, an organization working to connect and encourage men in the field, agrees. 

“For marginalized groups and others with lower-income brackets, the internet is one of the greatest equalizers of our time,” Kingori said. “With service providers dictating the quality and flow of the internet, it creates a division that shouldn’t be there.”

Huffman feels some of these fears may be exaggerated, stating that the repeal of net neutrality may not stifle as many voices as we think due to the fact that the majority of content creators use third party providers to share their messages. 

“YouTube is owned by Google,” Huffman said. “The #MeToo movement was a Twitter hashtag. These big providers have succeeded precisely because they are places where individuals and small, unfunded groups can get their voices out. It’s not time to run screaming with torches and pitchforks yet, because there is reason to hope there is a corporate interest that represents the individual voice. That was the premise of the internet all along.”

Harris is not convinced, stating that it is important for minorities to have opportunities to create content outside of established social media sites. He pointed out that small business and organizations that host from their own web domain will be impacted. 

“People can post something on Facebook or YouTube and it may or may not be seen, but with ownership of our own networks it puts more power in our hands. If someone creates a website called Black Lives Matter Indianapolis, they (the ISP) could say, ‘We don’t want this,’” said Harris. “At the end of the day, there is still a shift of power towards these providers instead of shifting the power to the people using the services.” 


Taking a Stand

Despite the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) decision to overturn net neutrality, there are last-ditch efforts being made to protect the open internet.  Twenty-two attorneys general are seeking to overturn the FCC decision by filing a lawsuit, and Senate Democrats are working to have the repeal overturned.

On an individual level, Harris feels people should talk to their state congressmen and representatives and let them know their feelings. 

Paul Talaga, a computer science professor at the University of Indianapolis, says that if net neutrality is repealed, individuals can still vote with our wallets. 

“Competition can result from these issues,” said Talaga. “Customers can ask their service providers what they are doing with their data and look for other options or other service providers.”

Kingori would like to see more influential people speak out and share their thoughts. 

“There are so many influential African-American people in the technology industry,” said Kingori. “Erica Baker, Brandon Nicholson, Kimberly Bryant, all of these people are so influential and to make their voices known will give others the confidence to speak up.”

Contact reporter Keshia McEntire at 317-762-7853. Follow her on Twitter @Keshiamc12

(Illustration/Abby Westcott) 

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