The Internet is hard – so if you understand it, take some time to teach a policymaker

The Benton Foundation recently recapped a story from the Washington Post that demonstrated that policymakers don’t always understand technology…

Here’s the bad news: We can’t trust Silicon Valley to police itself. Here’s the other bad news: We can’t trust Washington politicians to police it, either. Our policymakers are ill prepared to protect the public from those who wish us harm — or even from companies willing to profit off that harm. Case in point …

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), aspiring speaker of the House, tweeted: “Another day, another example of conservatives being censored on social media.” He added the hashtag “#StopTheBias” and called for Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey to “explain to Congress what is going on.” The cause of McCarthy’s complaint? He was annoyed that a tweet by Fox News host Laura Ingraham, retweeting a Drudge Report missive, wasn’t immediately visible to him because Twitter said it contained “potentially sensitive content.” As a Twitter executive pointed out, this was due to two factors: The Drudge Report has flagged its own tweets as “potentially sensitive”; and Rep McCarthy had set his Twitter account preferences to hide any tweets flagged this way. In other words, Rep McCarthy was censoring his own Twitter feed, something he could easily reverse by changing his account settings. Confronting face-palming mockery, Rep McCarthy nonetheless doubled downstill claiming political persecution.

I have spent a huge part of my career trying to help people better understand broadband and the Internet. I started in 1995, when it was new to most people. It was hard then and while it’s much easier to use now, it’s just as hard if not harder to understand the details in terms of policy and the technology of how it works. For most of us that doesn’t matter – because we just want to use it. BUT policymakers need a better understanding.

When I developed training on how the Internet works, I used to say that I just wanted to give the sort of lessons I needed myself on car mechanics. I didn’t want to fix my car myself, just understand the mechanic. I wanted to know when I needed a new car and when I needed a new mechanic. I know that many readers do understand the ins and outs – at least well enough to talk to the mechanic. Now is a good time to talk to candidates and gauge their understanding. Candidates are out garnering votes these days and they will take the time to listen. So if you have a minute and expertise, it’s a good time to share – because the Internet is hard. From the forums I’ve attended and articles I read, most understand that broadband is important – they just don’t always know what that means.

This entry was posted in Policy by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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