Viral Video: Let’s Revisit John Oliver’s Epic Net Neutrality Segment (It’s Inspired New Legislation)
Whatever they’re paying John Oliver, it’s not enough. First there’s the mordant wit. Take that wit, throw in a healthy dash of irreverence and then add major dollops of astute analysis. Put another way: Comedy, meet Real Issues. It’s priceless. Since its launch last April, Last Week Tonight, Oliver’s weekly half-hour news satire show, has taken on all manner of weighty issues. Ferguson, Supreme Court coverage, Argentina’s debt crisis and the Scottish independence referendum were just a few entrees on Oliver’s menu. On a significantly less weighty note, there were the Russian space geckos (#GoGetThoseGeckos and then, more sadly, #GoodbyeGeckos).
An Epic Segment
Amidst all of this inspired, free-range news satire, perhaps nowhere was Oliver’s wit more evident than in his net neutrality segment. Yes, that segment was so seven months ago, why do we care now? Well, for one thing, who knew that it would rack up more than 7.6 million views on YouTube? Or, that it would spark new legislation in Washington state?
In less adroit hands, net neutrality, the principle that data should not be treated differently / charged differently based on the user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment or mode of communication, might be a topic that sends viewers into a narcoleptic stupor. Even Oliver admits that in his segment, suggesting that “The only two words that promise more boredom in the English language are, ‘featuring Sting.’” Instead, Oliver’s smart 13-minute-plus piece sparked laughs and more conversation.
For one thing, he managed to introduce dingo imagery by comparing President Obama’s picking Tom Wheeler, a former top lobbyist for cable and wireless companies, to be the next chair of the Federal Communications Commission, to needing a babysitter and hiring a dingo. He also called on viewers to send their comments to www.fcc.gov/comments, which inundated FCC servers.
The New “Legislative YouTube Testimony Bill”
But back to the legislation. What new Washington state legislation did Oliver’s net neutrality segment spawn? Is it about preventing cable company shenanigans and promoting more competition among ISPs? (To be clear, Oliver used stronger language than “shenanigans.”) Well, the answer to that question is no, not exactly. Actually, not at all.
The bill, S.B. 5267, introduced last week by State Senator Cyrus Habib (D-Kirkland), would allow the public to submit testimony to Olympia over the Internet. As the bill states, “… providing testimony during a committee hearing may sometimes be challenging for the public.” To remedy that, the bill suggests that “it is the intent of the legislature that whenever possible the prerecorded videos and written statements will be made available to members of the legislature prior to legislative action on legislation.” Aside from the exhaustively repetitive nature of that sentence, there’s the practical question of how things would play out if the bill passed.
Dubbed on Habib’s website as the “Legislative YouTube testimony bill,” will S.B. 5267 simply provide a viable way for members of the public who can’t or don’t want to commute to Olympia to provide meaningful testimony? Or will it instead result in a preponderance of trolls directing their considerable energies to providing their own version of “testimony” at the expensive of more reasoned debate?
The reasoning behind the bill’s introduction is that if Oliver can get people to care about topics such as net neutrality, perhaps providing the option to testify about proposed legislation over the Internet would result in people caring more about issues that impact them at the state level. While providing broader access and opportunities to participate in the political process is a good thing, and free speech obviously doesn’t only mean speech we find pleasant and agree with, we should keep in mind the practical implications of the bill. As forward thinking as it may be deemed, it does open a Pandora’s Box.