Citing an “unprecedented power grab of the Obama-era FCC” that is a “trojan horse for censorship,” pro-Trump websites like InfoWars and Reddit’s r/The_Donald applauded the Republican-controlled FCC for its plans to strip Net Neutrality protections on Tuesday.
Experts say, however, sites like InfoWars and fringe communities like 4chan would likely be the first to have their websites slowed down by telecoms in the new plan, unveiled by Trump-appointed FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai on Tuesday.
Tim Karr, the senior director of strategy at the internet rights nonprofit Free Press, said Pai’s plan would allow telecom giants like Comcast to prioritize their own websites and properties, like Comcast-owned NBC sites.
In turn, this would slow traffic to fringe or non-mainstream political sites like InfoWars and 4chan—unless users paid more for a “higher tier” internet, which currently doesn’t exist.
“The thing about the internet that is truly revolutionary is that it took out the middleman, by virtue of the actual way the internet was originally engineered. The middleman model is the one that mainstream media, television, radio, and newspapers is built upon,” Karr told The Daily Beast.
“What this proposed rule change effectively does is it reinserts the middleman in the form of these internet access providers. In so doing, it deprioritizes the kind of content that political organizers rely upon.”
Still, those political organizers on websites like Reddit’s r/The_Donald, the web’s most active pro-Trump community, backed the FCC’s new proposal that would stall or maybe halt traffic to their own sites, in part because of a common enemy with the Trump administration.
“Just look at the four companies in FAVOR of ‘net neutrality’: Google, Apple, Amazon and Facebook,” reads the title of one popular on the subreddit Tuesday. “Anything that pisses them off is what I want.”
InfoWars ran several stories endorsing Pai’s plan this week, including one titled “FCC to Free Internet from Obama’s ‘Net Neutrality’ Rules.” The story claimed opposition to the plan was pushed primarily by “(liberal billionaire George) Soros’ pro-censorship coalition.”
“Since these 2015 regulations passed, Internet giant portals like Google, Facebook, and Twitter have moved to become the judge, jury, and executioner of the contact we read on the Internet, under the guise of eliminating ‘fake news,’” InfoWars writer Jerome Corsi wrote.
But Karr said the new bill would make telecoms like Comcast actual juries of content, forcing users to pay more for speedier access to some website.
“It’s largely a mystery how this has become a bipartisan issue,” said Karr. “Anyone who sees the internet as a tool to organize and get their message beyond the mainstream media, protecting an open internet is vital.”
Internet consumer advocacy groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation have lobbied against the changes for years, saying the changes would create a caste system on the web that allows people with more money to access some parts of the web faster than other users.
Opposition came in the form of lobbying money from companies like Verizon and Comcast, which used social media to launch a months-long ad campaign in favor of stripping Obama-era net neutrality protections.
“Usually when we see that sort of saber-rattling activism on the far right, there is some money behind it,” said Karr. “The phone and cable lobby very actively funds some of the net neutrality activism.”
Earlier this year, 27 Americans filed a complaint to the FCC when their identities were stolen and attached to public comments to the FCC, asking for the end of Net Neutrality.
Polls by real Republicans show that they support Net Neutrality protections. A GOP polling firm found that 75 percent of Republicans said that internet service providers should be “prohibited from slowing or blocking websites or video services like Netflix” in July.
“It imposes the gatekeeper media model on the internet by giving power to prioritize content to phone and cable companies,” said Karr. “There are economic incentives for them to prioritize, but also political incentives for these companies to want these rules.”
In other words, the new net neutrality rules would re-fill the mainstream media swamp that a lot of the fringe websites claim they’re trying to drain.