Net Neutrality & Digital Footprints

The views expressed on the CTE Educator website, blogs and posts are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Greater Johnstown School District, the Greater Johnstown School District Board of Directors, or Administration.

Net neutrality and our digital footprints are not only important to our personal lives, it is something that affects our professional responsibilities, careers, the modern economy, and ultimately our freedoms. 

A digital footprint is our intentional and unintentional trail and history of our online activity. Intentional digital footprints are our media posts, e-portfolios, comments on websites, and any other items that we place online ourselves. All too often people forget or ignore the footprint they are leaving. They post items and are shocked that someone they were posting about finds out through shared comments or posts. This creates so much ‘drama’ in the schools that we then have to sort out and deal with. 

Our unintentional digital footprint is often beyond our control. Every site we visit, search for, search engines themselves, email clients, (gmail in particular), gaming apps, etc., all collect, trade, share and sell data. As I sit here using a Google Doc to type the initial copy of my discussion post, I am aware that Google has access to this document, and all of my emails. Google admits to allowing 3rd party apps to read emails for advertising purposes. I am reminded of the most recent iteration of: “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product”, used by Steve Jobs, founder of Apple.

We need to cultivate our own and encourage our students to manage their digital footprint. By maintaining the content that they intentionally post, and having an e-portfolio, it can help to boost a positive reflection of themselves online. Our students will need to be constantly reminded that this is a professional website that will accompany them throughout their lives.

In this era of the tailored, focused, thought bubbles we live in, we are missing the free exchange of ideas. When researching topics, the amount of data these companies have regarding our interests, products we purchase, topics we text and email about, any social media platforms we use, (or are mentioned in), and past search inquiries, all combine to tailor results for us. This is defined as our digital footprint. While using our footprint may be favorable when shopping for shoes or clothing, it is dangerous when we are searching for topics that are political in nature. By tailoring results to our interests and viewpoints, it further divides us based on our positions by preventing opposing viewpoints or topics from appearing, reinforcing a person’s position without conflicting viewpoints. By looking at opposing viewpoints, we have to justify our position in light of opposing information. When results are tailored using our digital footprint, the results make everyone else who does not agree with your position look like an outlier, since everything you search for, or people in your groups agree with you. This is one of the most dangerous aspects of our digital footprint combined with the search algorithms that have been in use since 2009. These algorithms combined with our digital footprints are in direct conflict with net neutrality and the free exchange of ideas.

Digital access and net neutrality have become more important in our modern, post COVID world. The ability of ISP providers to throttle, limit, or ban content they do not agree with, or offered through a competitor is a violation of this neutrality. Whether you agree or disagree with a viewpoint, political view, or product being offered, it is in our DNA as Americans to respect the right to free speech, (even if you don’t agree). 

I understand in our post COVID world, the concept of net neutrality has been tossed around, and has disappeared. We are allowing fascists to control what we see and hear, reminding me of the book burning scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

We are allowing tech companies to control what we see, hear and can debate in an open forum. This is a violation of net neutrality and the underlying principles of free speech and free markets. We refute conspiracies by bringing them into the light of day, and confronting them with the truth. Not by attempting to bury them, allowing them to fester and spread, increasing distrust in treatments and authority. The more I have read in the assignments for this week concerning net neutrality and the underlying principles of free access for all, the more I am convinced that we need to bring antitrust legislation and lawsuits against these companies, just as we did at the turn of the last century when the large business conglomerates were a threat to a free society.