On Thursday, the Republican-dominated Federal Communications Commission and its chairman, Verizon BFF Ajit Pai, will hold a vote on whether to repeal Barack Obama-era net neutrality rules. If passed, the FCC would allow ISPs to begin setting up a tiered internet designed to suck as much money from customers’ pockets as possible while screwing with their ability to access competitors’ content, or really anything that might suck up amounts of bandwidth inconvenient for their profit margins.
The plan is immensely unpopular, even with Republicans. This type of situation would typically call for a charm offensive, though Pai has apparently decided to resort to his time-honored tactic of being incredibly condescending instead. In a video with the conservative site Daily Caller’s Benny Johnson—the dude who got fired from BuzzFeed for plagiarizing Yahoo Answers—Pai urged the country to understand that even if he succeeds in his plan to let ISPs strangle the rest of the internet to death, they’ll let us continue to take selfies and other stupid bullshit.
“There’s been quite a bit of conversation about my plan to restore Internet freedom,” Pai says in the cringe-inducing clip. “Here are just a few of the things you will still be able to do on the Internet after these Obama-era regulations are repealed.”
Pai then pantomimed things users will supposedly still be able to do, like being able to “gram your food,” “post photos of cute animals, like puppies,” “shop for all your Christmas presents online,” “binge watch your favorite shows,” and “stay part of your favorite fan community.”
“You can still drive memes right into the ground,” Pai added before breaking into a literal Harlem Shake segment. Astute viewers may remember that this was an intolerable meme from all the way back in 2013 which has not grown any less intolerable in the intervening four years.
All of these claims on what users “will still be able to do” are actually questionable, seeing as under Pai’s plan, ISPs could easily hit up their customers with crushing fees to let them access any of these services at reasonable speeds—particularly those binge-watching streaming services he claims to love so much. Strangely, Pai didn’t mention torrenting, one of the applications of the internet he believes ISPs should be able to turn off entirely to save on bandwidth.
The debate over net neutrality isn’t whether people are literally going to be unable to upload photos of cute puppies to the internet, but whether they’re going to be able to do so on fair terms or arcane, extortionate ones dictated entirely by a handful of ultra-wealthy service providers. But that’s beside the point; just like with a previous video mocking Twitter critics he filmed with the right-wing site Independent Journal Review, the intent seems to be finding friendly last-minute venues for Pai to publicly laugh off the intense criticism being directed at his plan.
He’s trying to buy precious cover by painting everyone who disagrees with him as a simple-minded idiot.
In the post accompanying the video, Johnson wrote, “You may not agree with Pai on everything, and we expect he will get some hate for this, but you got to respect a guy who does the Harlem Shake in 2017.”
Why is that, exactly?
Update 12/14/2017: As first discovered by Twitter user and musician Alexander Smith, one of the Daily Caller employees that danced alongside Pai in the video seems to be a proponent of Pizzagate, the infamous and completely baseless internet conspiracy theory claiming prominent Washington, D.C. Democrats were running a child sex trafficking ring out of a local pizza restaurant.
The woman in question, Daily Caller video producer Martina Markota, appears to the right of Pai during the Harlem Shake portion of the video.
Smith directed Gizmodo to Markota’s website. There, one of her demo reels included an unlisted YouTube video in which she discussed a sprawling conspiracy theory intertwining the Clinton political dynasty, John Podesta, email scandals, cocaine, “government pedo programs,” and “cheese pizza,” which she alleged was a code word referring to sex with children.
“This is not something I’m making up because I’m trying to, you know, put in my fantasy version of what’s going on and interject it into these email scandals, this is independently of the campaign I know what cheese pizza is,” Markota continued.
Several prominent Pizzagate proponents, including far-right personalities Mike Cernovich and Alex Jones, quickly distanced themselves from the whole mess after a gunman stormed a D.C.-area pizza restaurant. That perhaps explains why the video is unlisted on Markota’s YouTube feed.
Earlier in the day, Markota additionally appeared to have referenced her presence in Pai’s video on Twitter, writing “Party hard with the chairman of the FCC? Why not”.
Markota did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Gizmodo via Twitter, but we’ll update this post if we hear back. We’ve also reached out to the FCC.
Update 12/14/2017: Markota has since made the YouTube clip inaccessible.
Markota tried to play off the video as comedy in a series of tweets to Gizmodo, writing “I didn’t talk about pizza gate, I spoke about what cheese pizza meant on the deep web and made a funny video relevant to the time.” She later added that “you guys are retarded” and that “reporters should have better reading comprehension.”
But Markota alluded to having originally delisted the video for professional reasons in another, now-deleted tweet: “The video was about my experience on the deep web in 2014 and how I came across the code word for child pron, cheese pizza. That was my two cents on Pizzagate. I decided to remove many videos when getting a job in media.”
As a Salon article from November noted, “Markota’s social media postings indicate a significant degree of comfort with people who disseminate extremist or racist views on the internet,” including endorsing openly fascist video host Lana Lokteff and laughing alongside far-right media figure Gavin McInnes as he referred to trans people as “gender n****rs.”