This morning you may have seen the same icon promoted by Facebook, Netflix, Google and Twitter as part of the net neutrality day of action: a spinning wheel that is the universal symbol for waiting for content to load on the internet.
Net neutrality, the concept that internet service providers can’t prioritize a specific website or service, has a fundamentally boring name — but the new symbol could help solve its branding problem. Today in protest of the Federal Communication Commission's intent to roll back net neutrality, activists have adopted the loading icon, something that is instantly recognizable and instantly loathed, to raise awareness of the consequences of rescinding Obama-era net neutrality protections.
The loading icon represents a feared consequence: internet service providers could charge website owners more to have their content delivered faster if net neutrality ceases to be the law of the land. Right now, service providers can’t prioritize traffic to one website or service. The FCC formally adopted net neutrality during the Obama administration, but the Trump FCC and its new commissioner Ajit Pai have made it clear they plan on taking a sledgehammer to those regulations.
Sites like Twitter, which created a loading icon emoji for net neutrality proponents to use today, are pushing back against the changes, saying “the FCC should abandon its misguided effort to obviate all the work that has been done on behalf of all Internet users.” Google’s public policy blog warned that the “rules that protect the open internet are in danger of being dismantled.” One of Reddit’s most popular subreddits, r/technology, is running a massive banner that jokes, “We’re sorry, access to /r/technology is not included in your internet service package. You must pay your cable company an extra fee to proceed.”
But the sad reality is that it’s probably already too late for the open internet, as the FCC has made its intentions to roll back these regulations clear.