Pizzagate, Pai and net neutrality: What happens next

As expected, the US Federal Communications Commission on Thursday voted along party lines to repeal Obama-era net neutrality regulations.

Just before the vote, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai released a little video. The video was supposed to reassure people that his proposed changes would keep the internet a place where you could do all the things you normally do:

Let’s talk about a few points here, shall we?

No one ever said repealing Obama-era net neutrality would make the internet go away. No one said killing net neutrality would make it so people couldn’t post photos of their food on Instagram or take away YouTube. What supporters of net neutrality have argued is that, under the proposed changes, internet providers could sell the speed at which users can do all those things to the highest bidder.

Let’s also discuss his use of the “Harlem Shake” and the cast of characters in that segment.

The brunette woman dancing to Pai’s side, appearing to hold a cigarette, is a woman that people who love governmental conspiracy theories might recognize.

Gizmodo credits Alexander Smith, a musician, with noticing the woman first. It might look like Kat Dennings, she of “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” and “Two Broke Girls” fame. It is most assuredly not.

“One of the Daily Caller employees that danced alongside Pai in the video seems to be a proponent of Pizzagate, the infamous and completely baseless internet conspiracy theory claiming prominent Washington, D.C. Democrats were running a child sex trafficking ring out of a local pizza restaurant. The woman in question, Daily Caller video producer Martina Markota, appears to the right of Pai during the Harlem Shake portion of the video.”

Remember Pizzagate? A refresher from Slate: “In the run-up to the 2016 election, a viral myth had it that Hillary Clinton and her campaign chairman were managing a child sex ring in the basement of a pizza shop. The hoax spread through 4chan, Twitter and fake news sites and eventually spurred a man to discharge an assault rifle inside Comet Ping Pong, the D.C. pizzeria in question.”

And here’s the chairman of the FCC, using this person in a video – and a meme that ran its course several years ago, if we’re being truthful, a meaningless fad—to argue for calm and rational thought about his proposed changes to the governance of the internet.

Got that? Good.

By the way, the people behind the Harlem Shake are thinking about suing Pai for using their song without permission. As one website put it, the chair of the FCC doesn’t understand copyright law – kind of makes you question how well he can possibly understand how the internet works and, as a result, how best to operate and oversee its regulation?

The video was taken down for a few hours on Sunday but has been reposted on YouTube. This is now possibly becoming a challenge to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which gives creators the right to have YouTube take down videos that infringe on their copyrights (see the Dancing Baby case for a bonkers example of DMCAs and how messy they can get).

Baauer, the meme’s creator, told The Verge that he’s “appalled to be associated in any way with the repeal of net neutrality.”

Now for the reassuring thoughts.

When the Obama-era net neutrality regs were first proposed, there was controversy. There were lawsuits. Rules were written and rewritten and edited and made sure to follow the letter of the law. These regulations might have been voted out, but don’t for a moment thing the fight is done.

Already we know that the Attorney General of New York is filing a lawsuit on behalf of the two million comments in support of the new regs that were filed fraudulently.

We also now know that more than a dozen states are going to take their own action to preserve internet protections as outlined under the previous regulations.

The ACLU is filing a lawsuit and says the next hoop for net neutrality will be in Congress, “where pro-network neutrality members will press to use something called the Congressional Review Act to undo this hasty and misguided action. The CRA is a relatively new tool that allows Congress to reverse regulatory action within 60 legislative days of their enactment,” the group says.

The ACLU is calling on people to call their congressional leaders, but this is likely to be a fight along party lines. Again. Because that’s how American politics works right now.

“If the push for reversal of the FCC’s action through the CRA doesn’t succeed, then the action will turn to the states. We’re already working with state and local leaders to find every possible means to keep pushing on this issue and signal that the country won’t roll over,” the ACLU continues. “We will be helping legislators figure out what protections they can enact at the state and local level, providing model legislation and resolutions. And working with our People Power organization to help Americans have a voice on this important issue.”

The biggest takeaway is that this is a process; nothing’s going to change overnight. We’re looking at a regulatory, legislative and probably prosecutorial journey ahead.

Amber Healy

I write about music policy and lawsuits because they're endlessly fascinating.

Amber Healy has 516 posts and counting. See all posts by Amber Healy

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