Autistic Future
January 29th, 2017

Net Neutrality and Us

a map of the internet on a black background. it looks like neural connections

By The Opte Project — Orig­i­nal­ly from the Eng­lish Wikipedia; descrip­tion page is/was here., CC BY 2.5,

Peo­ple are born, labeled, and self-iden­ti­fied with autism all the time, but the dis­tance from there to “dif­fer­ent, not less,” the neu­ro­di­ver­si­ty par­a­digm, cul­ture, com­mu­ni­ty, and becom­ing Autis­tic is a big­ger leap. It’s not an intu­itive move because it’s down­right counter-cul­tur­al in a soci­ety that often treats dis­abil­i­ty as a less­er, unde­sir­able, less human way of liv­ing. Con­sid­er how you or your loved one cov­ered the dis­tance from diag­no­sis or real­iza­tion to here. It prob­a­bly had some­thing to do with the inter­net. Some peo­ple find out about autism online, real­ize it describes their expe­ri­ences, and come to iden­ti­fy with it or seek a diag­no­sis. Some peo­ple grow up know­ing about their dis­abil­i­ty and even­tu­al­ly find parts of the inter­net where peo­ple teach them a nar­ra­tive that has more to offer the Autis­tic indi­vid­ual than the main­stream assump­tion of infe­ri­or­i­ty and accep­tance of the med­ical mod­el. A lucky hand­ful of peo­ple have had some­one sit down and explain neu­ro­di­ver­si­ty and Autis­tic iden­ti­ty IRL, but the peo­ple offer­ing those things usu­al­ly picked them up in Autis­tic regions of the internet.

The inter­net is many things to us. It’s a repos­i­to­ry of our knowl­edge, writ­ings and art that make up a lot of our cul­ture, and forums and blogs, many now defunct, that keep our his­to­ry with­in easy reach. It’s a tool we’ve used to resist eugen­ics and pro­tect each oth­er. Its most impor­tant func­tion in our cul­ture, how­ev­er, may be as an on-ramp. We have some (affil­i­ate link) books now. Speak­ers knowl­edge­able about Autis­tic cul­ture are even involved in some autism con­fer­ences these days. Still, the ways new peo­ple enter our com­mu­ni­ty almost always have some­thing to do with the inter­net. Because stum­bling across Autis­tic cul­ture and com­mu­ni­ty depends on a lot of wan­der­ing and pok­ing around in cor­ners of the inter­net that are still some­what obscure, it isn’t clear that this would work near­ly as well as it does with­out net neutrality.

Our parts of the inter­net are small in the great scheme of things and not espe­cial­ly prof­itable. If peo­ple whose sites appeal to big­ger audi­ences and make more mon­ey can buy favor­able treat­ment from the net­work and make their sites faster and eas­i­er to reach, it will prob­a­bly hap­pen at the expense of our sites. Most of our lit­tle web­sites, Autis­tic Future includ­ed, would not be able to buy into new fast lanes. Some blog­gers and web­mas­ters might give up and shut their sites down in the face of declin­ing traf­fic. This would bring about the demise of many unique­ly Autis­tic spaces, reduce the flow of new con­tent and ideas, and, to the extent that these sites haven’t been archived some­where, strip away some of the cul­ture we have col­lec­tive­ly pro­duced. Even where inde­pen­dent sites stayed up, con­flicts between inter­net ser­vice providers might make it hard for some peo­ple to see them.

A dimin­ished inde­pen­dent, Autis­tic inter­net would be bad for our com­mu­ni­ty because we would prob­a­bly have to shift more of the ways we con­nect to each oth­er to the larg­er social net­works. We would become even more dan­ger­ous­ly depen­dent on sites like Face­book and Twit­ter than we already are. In these walled gar­den envi­ron­ments, it can be hard to share con­tent across net­works. We also don’t own the spaces we use. We’re squat­ters rather than ten­ants or own­ers, and we are vul­ner­a­ble to being shut down at any time for any or no rea­son. Those deci­sions are in the hands of peo­ple who may or may not be friend­ly to us. The less we have URLs and web host­ing of our own, the more we can expect insta­bil­i­ty, shut­tered accounts, con­nec­tions between friends cut off, art and writ­ing lost because it offends neu­rotyp­i­cals. We might have to be less vocal and assertive, which would fur­ther reduce the inter­net’s use­ful­ness as a way to pro­tect our­selves and make us hard­er for new peo­ple to find. Because each big social net­work tai­lors itself to spe­cif­ic kinds of con­tent, our forms and for­mats might be lim­it­ed to what suc­ceeds on at least one of the major social net­works. This could lead to Autis­tic writ­ing and art becom­ing bound by par­tic­u­lar forms, mak­ing things more gener­ic and squelch­ing any­thing inno­v­a­tive or new. Even peo­ple who find our com­mu­ni­ty may be less inclined to join it if it has less to offer.

The inter­net isn’t per­fect, but it is the best thing we have. An end to net neu­tral­i­ty would have ter­ri­ble con­se­quences for Autis­tic peo­ple. It would dam­age the most pow­er­ful tool at our dis­pos­al and dis­pos­es us of the net­work we (affil­i­ate link) may have built to make rich neu­rotyp­i­cals rich­er. We need to pro­tect net neu­tral­i­ty with every­thing we have, with aban­don, with all the feroc­i­ty we used to throw at Autism Speaks, and the time to do it is now. Don’t wait until bad things are already well under­way. Sign up for action alerts with orga­ni­za­tions like Fight for the Future today. Read the emails. Pay atten­tion. If you have some extra mon­ey, con­sid­er donat­ing it. If you don’t know much about net neu­tral­i­ty, start edu­cat­ing your­self on how the issue affects your life. There are many great free and (affil­i­ate link) low-cost resources that are, for now, only a Google search away. Add net neu­tral­i­ty to the list of things you bring up with your leg­is­la­tors when you con­tact them. Speak up about how it affects your life. Get ready to act on this issue when the oppor­tu­ni­ty aris­es, and get ready for anoth­er long strug­gle. Remem­ber that we’re fac­ing long odds, but we’ve beat­en those before.