In 2011 Clay Shirky of Foreign Affairs wrote of the political organizing power of social media across the world. His analysis concluded that social media was a growing force in enacting widespread
political activism against institutional oppression. Around the time of this article, the world saw oppressive regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Syria challenged—then dismantled– on Twitter and Facebook. Social media provided a platform for rapid, grassroot organizing on a massive level. No one can dispute the role social media plays in facilitating political change globally.
But what does that have to do with women in the US?
Since 2011 and the “Arab Spring,” social media’s role in activism has only expanded. We have seen local tragedies become national conversations about racism and police power/methodology through social media campaigns and hashtags (Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride and Michael Brown). A massive shooting at UC Santa Barbara became a conversation about violence against women in all forms through #YesAllWomen. Social media has become not only a platform for connecting with friends but a locus of cultural activism. Social justice activists in the U.S. co-opted the techniques of global political activists and modified them to address pervasive structural issues within the United States. As a group of social justice activists, feminists must be concerned when the freedom of internet access is challenged. Nothing in history has comparable power to galvanize and mobilize such massive numbers of people in pursuit of a singular social goal.
Net Neutrality is dangerously close to coming to an end in the United States. Since women use all forms of social media much more than men and the white-heterosexual-male voice tends to dominate traditional forms of cultural output, the end of net neutrality could stifle the dominant form of critical media output by women. Further still, the cable companies (which are of course also controlled by white men) then have the ability to arbitrarily slow connectivity to feminist websites like Jezebel, Feministing, or even the NOW website. Not only would social media activism become exceedingly difficult, more “traditional” media output designed to challenge the misogyny and patriarchal control of cultural creation could be restricted to the point of destruction. The very people who construct and enforce oppressive social norms would have complete control over the most egalitarian form of media. Essentially, white men would again control culture itself.
The feminist community must not stand by and watch idly as misogyny once again exerts its control over the means of social, cultural, and political activism. Now is the time to take to social media and protest the end of Net Neutrality.