Remember when the internet rallied to defeat SOPA/PIPA? That was fun. Today, a coalition of websites are trying to create the same digital fervor to protect another looming threat to the free web: net neutrality. Unfortunately, this most recent campaign hasn't impassioned the masses so much as briefly inspired a collective, heh?
Netflix, Tumblr, Reddit, Kickstarter, the EFF, and a handful of other websites in the net neutrality coalition Battle for the Net displayed banners and graphics today of the much-loathed spinning buffering wheel. The idea, of course, is to simulate what it'd be like if the pages loaded slowly, which is likely what would occur if the (terrible) rules proposed by the Federal Communication Commission are enforced.
If net neutrality protection is lost, ISPs (like Comcast) could charge websites (like Netflix) extra money to guarantee speedy internet, creating "fast lanes" for companies with preferential treatment, potentially stymying new, inventive services in favor of whoever pays up. It could very well ruin the internet. The the cause is noble—crucial even.
But damn, this net neutrality protest is hard to get excited about, even for someone who already supports the cause.
For one, the protest banners look a whole lot like the pop-up ads we've all trained ourselves to ignore. More than the design flaw, they're a toothless gesture, easy to click away and forget. They lack the "oh shit this would really suck if it happened" gut-punch of the SOPA/PIPA blackout, where web giants like Wikipedia actually went black for a day.
The SOPA protests had a clear, tangible goal: to stop an imminent bill from being passed. This time, the process is more murky. It's harder to drum up a sense of urgency—but there is one. September 15 is the last day to make a public comment against the FCC's rules. People need to care about this, now.
To really make a statement, these tech companies should come up with a gesture that actually taps into our fear about what would happen if net neutrality dies, rather than a gesture that makes us think "I guess I'd be sad if The Office buffered more." Adopting a targeted strike mentality at shooting down a specific rule instead of vaguely referencing the FCC could help.
People are online-protest fatigued, but this is an issue that deserves attention. Lame campaign or no, you can still give the FCC an all-caps hate rant about its dumb rules. And if you still have more piss, vinegar, and love for a neutral net left inside you, I highly suggest brainstorming a better campaign for the next time something like this goes down.
Image: Screenshot from Reddit