I have decided to re-post this lesson plan that I originally posted in December of last year. In re-posting it, I am forgoing the doom and gloom I offered in the introduction of the original post. A better attitude is needed. It is our duty as citizens to raise our voices in response to bad policy, so consider this my own humble contribution to the Internet-wide Day of Action to Save Net Neutrality.
In this post I’m going to be mashing together several lesson plans from two very different courses: my Intro to Mass Communication course at DePaul University, and the course “Frames, Claims, and Videogames,” which I’m currently teaching at the School of the Art Institute right now. Despite their different origins, these lessons speak to common themes, and in fact they could be productively combined in the future. At issue in all of them: the US Supreme Court’s shifting views on various media, their potential for socially valuable expression, and their first amendment protections (or lack thereof). We could call it a vernacular legal theory of medium specificity, moments in which those whose job it is to interpret the law dip their toes into defining the specific affordances and dangers of a given medium.
What is our country coming to when a so-called judge can define a medium’s potential as a mode of expression? THE DEFINITIONS OF OUR MEDIA ARE AT STAKE.
Well, unlike other lessons I could name, this particular lesson plan wasn’t disrupted in real-time by the incoming Trump administration. But it will certainly be different if I ever teach it for an Intro to Mass Communication course again.
Let’s be clear: net neutrality is dead, dead, dead. There were already reasons to be worried given AT&T’s zero-rating shenanigans in the run-up to its attempted merger with Time Warner. Since then, presumptive future head of the FCC Ajit Pai has quite clearly stated the Trump administration’s plans to destroy the current FCC’s valiant attempts to enforce net neutrality. It is an idea whose time has passed.
Why even post this, then? Will anyone teach a lesson on net neutrality in the future? I don’t see why not. Presumably people still lessons on labor unions, despite the fact that those barely exist anymore. And perhaps, in a perverse way, net neutrality’s death will mean that more people actually will understand what it once was. Once it’s gone, the ISPs’ noise machine will presumably move on to other targets, meaning that perhaps there won’t be quite as thick a slurry of blatant misinformation to fight in the future. (Although I disagree with the political right in this country on most issues, I have to say that I’ve never seen such basic confusion on the other side about what the conversation is actually about than I have around the issue of net neutrality. The points made against it are incoherent, because they often simply pretend it is something it is not. Seriously, outright falsehoods and mirror-universe projections in this area have been endemic.) In any case, it’s still worth fighting the good fight, and keeping students informed of what might have been.