Without net neutrality, Infowars risks losing the info war

Breitbart News is anti-net neutrality, but pulling back internet regulations will only slow down the site.
Image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

If you get your news from Gateway Pundit, net neutrality is covered with stories like “Obama’s Terrifying Federal Government SCAM That Liberals Fell For.

The pundit, however, should be worried.

Far-right websites have been eagerly awaiting Thursday’s repeal of net neutrality regulations, but it’s confusing as to why these conservative sites wanted the Federal Communications Commission to turn over power to internet service providers, like Comcast and Verizon. The decision is poised to hurt more than help these small media sites.

Articles on deeply conservative sites like Breitbart News, Infowars, the Daily Caller, and others are filled with anti-net neutrality rhetoric and cheers about the repeal. On Infowars net neutrality is associated with the hated Obama presidency. “FCC TO FREE INTERNET FROM OBAMA’S “NET NEUTRALITY” RULES” one recent headline states.

A recent op-ed on the Daily Caller said the defeat of net neutrality “will deliver wholly positive and long overdue progress for consumers and our innovation economy.” In a 2014 Milo Yiannopoulos article on Breitbart the since-removed editor called net neutrality “a bit of a drag.” Red Sate cheered Thursday’s ruling and jeered at net neutrality supporters, “Statists really dislike losing power.”

But the irony of those sites’ anti-net neutrality stances is that the Obama administration-backed regulations from 2015 actually help keep the sites accessible and available to readers at a time when far-right media has come under attack from major companies.

With nonstop derision for mainstream media from right-wing media, it makes no sense that these smaller conservative outlets are promoting a new system that gives control over to major internet service providers and telecommunication companies that can easily divert fast loading times to preferred sites. It’s not hard to imagine that a major internet provider like Comcast would favor its own NBC News and be willing to toss Infowars into a slow lane — or charge them to get in the fast lane.

Michael Fauscette, chief research officer at G2 Crowd, a review website for business software, said in a phone call shortly after the vote Thursday that small media sites like these “alt-right” news sites are going to see an impact.

“Smaller sites are certainly going to have a harder time to get that fast lane access,” Fauscette said. To get priority access, it’s going to cost more. 

Instead of more page views on that story from Infowars, the small outlet could have to shell cash out to get eyes on its content. That’s not a great proposition at a time when digital media is undergoing something of a reckoning with its ad-driven business model.

The progressive watchdog of conservative media is just as confounded as to why right-wing outlets are applauding the rollback. Media Matters for America spokesperson Nathan Evans said in an email: “Net neutrality repeal stands to screw everyone over — far left, far right, and everyone in between. Fringe sites like Breitbart and The Daily Caller will reap what they sowed — they promoted calls for a net neutrality repeal, and now everyone will face the consequences.”

The repeal of net neutrality rules comes at a time when major platform companies have shown a growing comfort with blocking or scuttling controversial content. Already companies like YouTube have taken action. Now internet providers will have much more room to control what these type of sites can put out. Cloudflare shut down the pro-Nazi site Daily Stormer for its abusive content. Facebook has been adamant about going after “fake news.”

In a Breitbart list of things to know about net neutrality the argument in favor of the repeal was what “liberal tech companies” are already blocking white nationalist sites and holding back free speech. In their eyes, what difference does this make?

Many pro-net neutrality activists warn that if net neutrality were repealed, then ISPs could have free rein to block whatever content they deem objectionable. However, many liberal tech companies such as GoDaddy, Google, and Cloudflare, under current net neutrality rules, blocked the white nationalist website The Daily Stormer from their web hosting. Google also removed Gab.ai, a content-neutral platform committed to free speech for everyone, from their Google Play app ecosystem for promoting “hate speech.”

Breitbart’s logic here seems to be that since they’re already under fire, why not make it so more companies can go after them? That’s not a terribly convincing argument, especially when many internet providers are making major investments in their own content operations, which they’ll inevitably want to favor.

Even though the vote just happened, analyst Fauscette predicts at least a six-month timeline until major service providers start making noticeable changes. At that point he expects the internet to look more like it did before 2015 — lots of buffering. 

With net neutrality dead, alternative news sites don’t win — even if they support the concept of less government in our internet access. The irony is these internet giants that now own the internet don’t care about Breitbart’s latest headline praising the decision that put control in their corporate hands.

Soon, they could make sure nobody sees it.

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