By the end of this month, Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), will most likely be rolling back FCC’s 2015 net neutrality ruling, which classified the internet as open for everyone. This ruling made changing internet speeds, blocking websites and paid prioritization by an internet service provider illegal.
Pai’s choice to change this existing law is contrary to the millions of comments in support of net neutrality on the FCC’s proposal regarding their decision and the protests of large internet companies such as Google, Facebook Inc., Amazon.com Inc., Netflix, Spotify and PornHub.
I first found out about the issue last year after watching an informative CollegeHumor video on YouTube. It explained how rescinding the aforementioned 2015 FCC ruling would change the egalitarian nature of the internet. Despite how much I utilize and value the internet, I likely forgot about the issue after 10 minutes.
For a while, the FCC gathered feedback on whether or not the public supported their decision. So, I also went to the FCC’s website and wrote a half-assed comment on why they shouldn’t overturn the ruling.
Later, during the second wave of public feedback, I again wrote a comment — this time a bit better — to the FCC about my opposition to them disbanding net neutrality.
Recently, when I read several news stories foreboding the end of net neutrality, I began to ask, who is to blame? I first blamed Pai — he is an easy choice since he is an explicit opponent. I also blamed all the large companies that have a stake in ending net neutrality, such as Verizon Communications Inc. and Comcast Corp. I even blamed regular internet users who are indifferent about the issue.
Then an idea slowly crept up me — for an issue that I held important, I barely put forth any effort.
It seems to be a part of human nature to find an excuse for why something went wrong. Whether this be a societal construction or a defensive mechanism, I have slowly come to realize that the true blame lies in myself and all others like me. We are guilty of what The Guardian refers to as online activism.
Its idea is simple; we see so many issues being bolstered on social media and give them likes, posts and comments to show support. This, at first glance, seems to be a good thing. All these causes are gaining traction, right? Yet, our support is only temporary. It allows us to become “armchair activists” by engaging and disengaging with a cause quickly instead of devoting our time to it.
This principle also relates to this past presidential election, in which people who had not voted admitted that they never thought President Donald Trump would win because they felt like their vote didn’t matter. They may have liked, commented and even attended the rally of their preferred candidate, but when the time came, along with 40 percent of registered U.S. voters, they did not vote.
In the back of my mind, I always believed that there would be more time to defend net neutrality, or that someone else was putting forth more effort on my behalf or even that some legislative action would be put forth to make net neutrality legal.
This is the biggest flaw with internet activism — by posting, commenting or liking, we are relying on someone else to do the actual activism for us. We live in a constitutional republic. Our opinions matter, but if we don’t start engaging in actions on issues, the things that truly matter to us will slowly slip away, just as net neutrality is.
Joshua Hummell is a senior double-majoring in classical and Near Eastern studies and history.