WASHINGTON — Social media has been a driving — and uniting — force in the current effort to get the Federal Communications Commission to reclassify Internet access under Title II common-carrier regulations.
That ’s not surprising, given that the issue is about protecting access to Internet destination and apps like, well, social media. So, like Hair Club for Men, social-media purveyors are not just the leading voice, they’re also the “client.”
From a powerful House member using Reddit to try and rebrand the push for strong open Internet rules, to a group rallying its online supporters to clog the FCC with phone calls, to the record-breaking flood of comments — more than 4 million — in the official docket, online activism has gotten results.
One need look no further than 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. to see just how impactful. When President Obama announced he was going all in for Title II reclassification, he began his YouTube video announcing the position with a simulated buffering symbol. That was a nod to an online protest during which websites used that same device.
There was pushback four years ago from some of the same critics of anything short of Title II, but social media — such as Twitter and Reddit— and mobile broadband, have exploded in the interim (witness the FCC’s current consideration of applying its no-blocking or discriminating rules to mobile broadband, something it chose not to do last time around).
Even the National Cable & Telecommunications Association tried to fight fire with social- media counterfire. It launched a stealth Web/Twitter campaign, “Onward, Internet,” a soft-sell campaign soliciting input on why the Internet is working just fine “unfettered by rules,” an argument cable operators have been making against Title II-based regulations.
“I think social media had a huge impact in quickly spreading the word about what the FCC was doing,” Craig Aaron, president of Title II advocate Free Press, said. “And I think the fact that people rely on social media so much more than even a few years ago only drives home for people just how important the free and open Internet is to their ability to connect and communicate.
“And whether people were finding out about net neutrality because they watched [a clip from HBO’s Last Week Tonight With] John Oliver on YouTube or because Tumblr put the spinning wheel of death on their site during the Internet slowdown, they saw it and responded in record numbers. It completely changed the debate.”
Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future, which helped promote pro-Title II protests, including one at FCC chairman Tom Wheeler’s house, agreed.
“We are always looking for new and innovative ways to use social media to both activate the huge base of support that exists on the Internet, and to pressure those in power who need to hear from the public,” she said.
Greer pointed out that the battleforthenet. com website includes a “political scoreboard” that allows visitors to easily send Twitter posts to Congress members “to either praise or shame them for supporting or opposing Title II.”
But it’s more about channeling than driving the social-media pushback, according to Greer. “Our task is not so much convincing people as channeling their energy into meaningful actions that make change,” she said.