Are you planning to jump to a new social network? Prepare to pressure your legislators for a return to Obama-era net neutrality.
As the Globe's digital editor, I follow all sorts of online trends, hashtags and memes. A big one last week was "scheduled" for Friday the 13th: That was a day where a flood of people would leave Facebook and Twitter to join other networks such as Parler and MeWe.
That movement was largely targeted at conservatives unhappy with Facebook and Twitter taking actions to prevent the spread of misinformation in the aftermath of the presidential election.
In a nutshell, those two platforms — especially Twitter — have labeled numerous posts from President Donald Trump, who has been claiming victory and alleging voter fraud without any evidence of such, as misleading. That has angered the president and his supporters, who now look at Parler's and MeWe's promise of never "censoring" content as very promising.
There's a lot to unpack in those last two paragraphs, obviously, but that's for another column. Right now, I'm telling you that if you are serious about switching to Parler, MeWe or anything else, you need net neutrality in order to ensure your internet service providers, or ISPs, don't limit your access to those new networks.
Seriously. I mean this from the bottom of my heart.
I love America, and the First Amendment is my biggest reason for my patriotism. I believe that the freedom of speech includes the freedom to learn and educate yourself, and because knowledge is power, the ability to gain knowledge is a critical part of what it means to be American. I may not agree with what you believe, but I am deeply invested in your right to study it.
Net neutrality is the concept that people should be able to access whatever they want and use whatever services they choose on the internet. President Barack Obama gets the credit for it because it was written into Federal Communications Commission regulations in 2015, but the idea really blossomed from President George W. Bush's administration.
Net neutrality used to treat the internet like a utility, something as important as power, water and cable TV. However, it was short-lived: Trump-appointee Ajit Pai, the FCC's commissioner, repealed it, effectively treating the internet like a pay-to-play service as trivial as buying a movie ticket.
Pai removed regulations that kept internet service providers from charging more money for speedier access and from blocking services they don't like. He also got rid of consumer protections such as privacy requirements and avenues for complaints about price gouging.
Let's get back to Facebook and Twitter, which are both worth billions and are two of our biggest corporate heavy hitters, and the internet service providers that also have tremendous economic sway.
If you're the type who enjoys wearing a tinfoil hat, put one on with me here: Is it outside the realm of possibility that Facebook and Twitter could work out social network exclusivity deals with AT&T, Verizon and the newly merged T-Mobile and Sprint? Do we really believe that cable internet companies are incapable of limiting or blocking Parler, MeWe or other networks?
Bad news: They've done it before. Companies such as AT&T, Comcast, Sprint and Verizon all have histories of blocking customers from using websites or apps before net neutrality. If Parler or MeWe can't pay to play, you could find it difficult to use those new networks.
There is hope for net neutrality: President-elect Joe Biden. He could appoint a new FCC director who would restore the concept to its true intent. That's a victory Republicans should let Biden have, should he choose to pursue it, because it would ensure Trump supporters and others could continue connecting and networking.
In the meantime, no matter your politics, ask your elected representatives and senators to restore net neutrality — especially U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., who has engaged in a war on big tech.
Net neutrality is neither a conservative nor liberal issue. It's an American issue. And with so many services depending on the internet, net neutrality has never been more important for true freedom than it is now.
Joe Hadsall is the digital editor at The Joplin Globe.