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?