Where were internet access crusaders when Facebook stopped Korryn Gaines from streaming cops murdering her?
The internet is already a hellscape of torrid anti-Blackness that routinely prohibits Black folk from accessing digital communication
On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission finally delivered its long-expected and devastating death knell to Obama-era Net Neutrality rules—policies supposedly put in place to ensure the internet remained on a level playing field with access equity. The repeal is likely to further impede the work of digital organizers for social justice and exacerbate economic disparities while allowing the massively rich to make even more money at everyone else’s expense.
The potential horrors of this repeal have been widely bemoaned on the Left. Many activists are even still attempting to marshal energies to encourage Congress to reinstate the rules, a use of resources that is extremely unlikely to have any success given GOP majorities in both the House and Senate. Ask any of these desperate progressives and they are likely to tell you that they fight against such odds because otherwise the internet will never be the same, soothsaying doomsday predictions about how those who need it most will be excluded from the web given the likelihood of having to pay for competitive internet speeds in the future.
But, for some of us, “the same” internet that these hapless souls are struggling so hard to protect was already a hellscape of torrid anti-Blackness, one which routinely prohibited Black people from accessing digital lines of communication in their greatest times of need. And never were the most horrific cases of impediments to Black folk’s internet access met with even a fraction of the uproar the repeal of Net Neutrality garners now.
On August 1st, 2016, 23-year-old Korryn Gaines was murdered in her Baltimore home by police after they forcibly entered in a professed attempt to serve a warrant for a minor traffic violation. Her five year old son, Kodi, was shot in the raid as she held him in her arms. Occuring at the height of #BlackLivesMatter, the general silence among the Left surrounding the case was revealing enough, but it was Facebook’s involvement in the shooting that continues to haunt me today, a morbid specter of what the whole world will conspire to do when a Black person dares to resist it to the point of violence.
According to the Baltimore Sun, authorities contacted the social media platform to request they deactivate Gaines’ account as she attempted to stream the raid on her home, and Facebook quickly complied. Within moments, she was dead, her baby now with a bullet hole through his tiny arm, and law enforcement’s version of the story—that she was a deranged woman who essentially brought her own death upon herself by not complying—easily became the narrative.
Of course, the practices that allow Black people to be kicked off a private platform like Facebook so that their murder can more efficiently be swept under the rug and those that allow Internet Service Providers to stack the deck in their own favor are different, but to what extent? Those who decry the repeal of Net Neutrality rules have often claimed that one of the more terrifying possibilities is how these actions might silence women and people of color. But when a Black woman who resisted the state was actually silenced online and these same people were nowhere to be found, can we really trust their commitment?
Facebook’s vile treatment of Korryn Gaines is not the only example of how the internet has never been safe for Black people who clash with the state, and our lackluster efforts to protect them. As Janisha Gabriel reminded in a post, “Oakland shut down the internet during Oscar Grant Protests. Twitter refused to trend Troy Davis name the night of his execution. Ads determine what websites you see now based on your browsing history and activist websites are constantly under attack, hacked, throttled, have DDOS attacks, rogue accounts, and have service canceled by their host.”
There has never been an “open internet” for Black people, and the fact that there is far less of a mass who decry this reality than who launch into hysteria for any possible reality to come following the repeal is telling. When the world’s energies are focused on destroying and oppressing Black people, particularly the most marginalized among us, those whom this destruction hasn’t reached yet seem to always be okay with it. Then we wonder why no one ever stops the ball before it begins to roll, as if such contemplation doesn’t render ourselves non-entities with no agency. When will we commit to stopping the ball ourselves?
It’s worth noting that the Net Neutrality rules in question have only been in place since 2015. Though loosely defined principles had much of the same effect, these principles were violated numerous times before the official establishment of these rules, as well as many times after. Which is to say the systems allowing widespread abuses of the public for the benefit of a few are already firmly in place, and have been for centuries.
Our job is not to mitigate the harm caused by these systems, although that can certainly be a strategy. Our focus should always be to undermine these systems completely, and that takes a relentless dedication to combating their abuses especially when they are most likely to harm those with less resources or social protections than us.
After the repeal of the Net Neutrality rules, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg released a statement claiming, “An open internet is critical for new ideas and economic opportunity — and internet providers shouldn’t be able to decide what people can see online or charge more for certain websites.” Police officers out to assassinate young Black mothers shouldn’t be able to decide what people can see either, but here we are, with Sheryl claiming the moral high-ground without ever addressing her hand in the fact that they do—a hand covered in Black blood.
At some point, we have to decide if the ground upon which our morals lie is designed to be a safe place for the Black margins or for white liberals. The comfort with which the latter can assist in the murder of the former and still believably claim to be righteous is the true impediment to access equity. When we answer for our mistreatment of Korryn Gaines the way we want the FCC and greedy ISPs to answer for their mistreatment of everyone else, only then can each person who deserves access to a world without abuse finally log into it.