Donald Trump Jr. tweeted a couple valid points about net neutrality on Thursday and Friday, when he suggested that some critics of the FCC's deregulation are overreacting and might not even understand what net neutrality is.
Yet Trump Jr. took his arguments too far and seemed to be a bit confused, himself.
Here are the tweets — one original and one retweet:
I would pay good money to see all those people complaining about Obama’s FCC chairman voting to repeal #NetNeutality actually explain it in detail. I’d also bet most hadn’t heard of it before this week. #outrage
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) December 15, 2017
Net neutrality is, indeed, often misunderstood. And some of the #outrage directed at the FCC's decision on Thursday to repeal an Obama-era rule could be driven by unfounded fears. Slate's Aaron Mak has rounded up some of the misinformation floating around on the Internet — false claims that Google will now charge $1.99 per search or that YouTube will cost $19.99 per month, for example.
But there are several problems with Trump Jr.'s tweets. One is the typo in #NetNeutality. Apparently lots of people have made the same spelling mistake, judging by the large number of tweets associated with that hashtag. This is not a huge deal, but if you are going to call out people for failing to grasp the meaning of a term, you ought to spell the term correctly.
Trump Jr.'s reference to “Obama's FCC chairman” was erroneous, too. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who led the effort to repeal the net-neutrality regulations, was nominated to the commission by Barack Obama, but it was President Trump who named him chairman.
It's worth noting that Obama picked Pai because the FCC needed a new Republican member. Pai surely would not have been Obama's first choice, but neither party can hold more than three of the commission's five seats. To suggest that Pai is an Obama guy is disingenuous.
The FCC's two Democratic members voted against the repeal on Thursday. Obama's actual FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler, is no longer a member; he is a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Trump Jr.'s claim that “most” critics of the repeal had not heard of net neutrality before this week is difficult to prove, one way or the other, but it sure seems like an exaggeration. Net neutrality advocates have pushed for regulation for a long time, which is how the rules mandating net neutrality got passed by the FCC in the first place, in 2015.
Obama even talked about net neutrality early in his first campaign for the White House. “I will take a back seat to no one on my commitment to network neutrality,” he said in 2007.
The most significant flaw in Trump Jr.'s message might be his retweeted critique of Netflix, which perpetuated a common, but wrong, belief about what net neutrality means. The notion that offering tiered services to consumers violates the principle of net neutrality is false. The regulations repealed on Thursday had nothing to do with the abilities of companies like Netflix to market different service levels or of Internet providers such as Comcast and Verizon to sell different connection speeds to consumers at different prices.
Net neutrality isn't about how these companies treat consumers — not directly, anyway. It's about how they treat each other. It means that Comcast, a part owner of Netflix rival Hulu, can't artificially slow down Netflix streaming to give Hulu a competitive advantage. It means that Internet providers have to treat all content the same.
Consumers are affected, of course. In a previous article, I used the example of a new travel-booking website. Suppose that without net-neutrality rules, Kayak and Orbitz can pay Internet providers to load their sites faster than the start-up. Impatient customers will quickly give up on the start-up, and it will fail. That means fewer competitors in the travel industry, which could be bad for consumers, who benefit when many companies vie for the lowest prices.
If Trump Jr. understands this, he didn't show it in his tweets.