Internet rights are civil rights

In an op-ed for MSNBC, Darren Walker makes the case that threats to a free and open Internet are threats to freedom itself. “Without a renewed commitment” to Internet rights,  he notes, “we risk undermining the very core of our democracy, setting ourselves on a course for a modern-day news blackout,” he writes.

Published on MSNBC | December 20, 2014
Internet rights are civil rights
By Darren Walker


Fifty years ago, Thurgood Marshall appeared on the “Today” show to discuss school segregation. In Jackson, Mississippi, however, viewers who tuned in expecting to see Judge Marshall instead saw two words: “Cable Difficulty.” At the height of the civil rights movement, news blackouts across the country kept countless Americans from seeing the shocking images of men, women, and children being attacked by dogs and beaten by batons.

Flash-forward to the recent protests in the aftermath of the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.

As police cracked down, they banned news helicopters from relaying images from the air and limited camera crews on the ground. Nonetheless, tens of thousands of Americans—including reporters—took to social media to document the protests. Videos shown on nightly news of officers firing tear gas were recorded on cellphones and uploaded to YouTube; locations of die-ins, protests and spontaneous rallies were circulated on Facebook and Twitter.

But imagine if Internet access to these images and information was restricted, or disparately available. Would the communities who took to the streets, channeling decades of oppression and injustice, have captured the attention of the American public? Would the protests have sparked a national conversation on systemic racism or police accountability?

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The Ford Foundation is an independent, nonprofit grant-making organization. For more than 80 years it has worked with courageous people on the frontlines of social change worldwide, guided by its mission to strengthen democratic values, reduce poverty and injustice, promote international cooperation, and advance human achievement. With headquarters in New York, the foundation has offices in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.