For nearly a year, America has stood at the crossroads of a damaged democracy and a burgeoning autocracy. If net neutrality is destroyed, we will cross firmly into the latter, and our return is unlikely.
The threat to net neutrality highlights the reliance on social media and an independent press for political organizing in the digital age. Should net neutrality be eliminated, those avenues will likely become curtailed for much of the public or driven out of business due to loss of revenue. Without the means to freely communicate online, citizens will be far less able to challenge the administration. It doesn’t matter what cause someone prioritizes: The elimination of net neutrality will impede the ability to understand the cause, discuss it and organize around it.
The erosion of freedom of speech and assembly has always been a hallmark of dictatorship, one traditionally associated with formal decrees of censorship or dramatic acts like book burning. In Mr. Trump’s corporatized administration, overt state censorship is unnecessary and undesirable: Instead, technology can be manipulated while excessive litigation can force the media into self-censorship. The subtler gesture of removing the neutrality of the internet allows constitutional rights to remain intact on paper but demolished in practice.