Net Neutrality and Education

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Why the images of internet always seem to come from the ’90s, we have no clue.

Deja vu, anyone?

Back in 2015, the FCC ruled in favor of net neutrality, a huge victory for maintaining freedom of information via the internet.

However, with the appointment of Ajit Pai as the chairman of the FCC, things may be changing once again.

Here’s where we are today, via The Verge:

FCC chairman Ajit Pai said today that net neutrality was “a mistake” and that the commission is now “on track” to return to a much lighter style of regulation.

“Our new approach injected tremendous uncertainty into the broadband market,” Pai said during a speech at Mobile World Congress this afternoon. “And uncertainty is the enemy of growth.”

Pai has long been opposed to net neutrality and voted against the proposal when it came up in 2015. While he hasn’t specifically stated that he plans to reverse the order now that he’s chairman, today’s speech suggests pretty clearly that he’s aiming to.

Need a refresher on why this is so important, especially in the education world? So did we. Here are a couple of resources from several years ago that give good context.

Net Neutrality: A Huge Victory for Education:

Still, at its core, net neutrality is just as simple as the name implies. In essence, it’s a guarantee that regardless of whether you’re a Fortune 500 company or someone down on their luck desperately searching for a job at a public library, you’ll experience access to the same Internet. Sounds perfectly reasonable, right? Unfortunately, the nation’s largest ISPs fail to agree.

Without net neutrality, industry leaders like Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner could hypothetically increase their profit margins by splitting the Internet into two very distinct categories: the ultra fast and the intolerably slow. Granted, all three companies emphatically deny plans of doing so. Nevertheless, it isn’t too hard to imagine a scenario where the desire to please investors wins out over some sense of civic responsibility

What Net Neutrality Means for Students and Educators:

Two students are researching a paper – one with net neutrality, and one without. How are their experiences different?

Courtney Young: An individual student is connected to a single Internet service provider (ISP), which becomes the gateway through which the student must connect to gain access to millions of web pages, platforms and services.

Gina—with an open Internet connection—is free to choose whatever information or resources she likes from small, highly specialized content providers or large global corporations, no matter which ISP she uses and no matter if she is using fixed or mobile broadband.

Stan, the student without an open Internet, might be blocked from accessing resources that compete with content offered by his ISP. For example, Comcast merged with NBC Universal several years ago. So, if Stan uses Comcast to access the Internet, he might be redirected to NBC Learn when he was trying to get PBS content. Or perhaps a commercial distributor of primary source materials had made a deal with Verizon to expedite its content. Stan might have to wait for a sluggish download of open educational resources versus getting super-fast access to the commercial content.

So what can we do now? Make noise. A lot of the information out there hasn’t caught up with the reinvigoration of the debate. It’s from 2015 and earlier.

Perhaps the most effective thing that we can do RIGHT NOW is call the FCC and your representatives and tell them that you support net neutrality, as an educator and as a citizen.

We can tell you now that a phone call will take 10-20 minutes, as you do have to navigate through some touch-tone options. Choose the “submit a consumer complaint” option and then “0” to speak with an agent. There is hold time involved, at least when we called.

FCC: 1-888-225-5322

As always, if phone calls aren’t feasible, or you simply can’t wait on hold, you can file a complaint online here.

Recent news has made it clear; while making lots of noise doesn’t always work, it certainly alerts those making the decisions to the fact that millions of their constituents are watching. For the sake of students today and in the future, don’t let this issue pass quietly.

 

 

Who Googles Google? The Holocaust and Search Algorithms

Motivated users can manipulate search engine results

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Been going to Google for information about the Holocaust recently? You might have been presented with top results that include a white supremacist website.

As we posted previously, the idea that the internet is a neutral mass of information–and that search engines are neutral and unbiased–is one that increasingly needs to be challenged by students and readers of all ages.

Google results can serve as useful test cases to help students understand the inner workings behind what actually comes up in search results.

Fortune reports on the story in a short article appropriate for high school students.

The implications are alarming. Due to the search engine’s placement of the website, a young person unfamiliar with history, or a person seeking to validate a conspiracy theory, could easily get drawn into the Stormfront site as a jumping-off point for research.

The Guardian presents a more in-depth explanation of how Google’s autocomplete suggestions and ordering of search results can impact readers’ perceptions of an issue.

The increased scrutiny on the algorithms of Google – which removed antisemitic and sexist autocomplete phrases after the recent Observer investigation – comes at a time of tense debate surrounding the role of fake news in building support for conservative political leaders, particularly US president-elect Donald Trump.

Facebook has faced significant backlash for its role in enabling widespread dissemination of misinformation, and data scientists and communication experts have argued that rightwing groups have found creative ways to manipulate social media trends and search algorithms.

The Guardian’s latest findings further suggest that Google’s searches are contributing to the problem.

In the past, when a journalist or academic exposes one of these algorithmic hiccups, humans at Google quietly make manual adjustments in a process that’s neither transparent nor accountable.

At the same time, politically motivated third parties including the “alt-right”, a far-right movement in the US, use a variety of techniques to trick the algorithm and push propaganda and misinformation higher up Google’s search rankings.

 

Included in this post:

“How Google’s search algorithm spreads false information with a rightwing bias,” via The Guardian, 12/16/15

“A Top Google Result for the Holocaust Is Now a White Supremacist Site,” via Fortune, 12/12/16

Moderating the Internet

Who regulates online speech? Is there a digital public square?

Since the end of the election, there’s been a lot of discussion about social media’s impact on the outcome, from the circulation of so-called “fake news” to Donald Trump’s use of Twitter.

Who decides what language and imagery is permitted on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest? The platforms are, after all, owned and maintained by private companies.

Here are some thought-provoking articles about how they establish and enforce their use policies. (Note that the language and situations described are crude). Students will be provoked to think hard about free speech and who gets to regulate it.