Why Eliminating Net Neutrality Is Bad for Women

FCC action could decimate influencer marketing, an area where they've thrived

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The FCC’s recent vote to eliminate net neutrality stands to impact some of the country’s most enterprising innovators. It’s a shortsighted action likely to result in unintended consequences for many individuals and businesses.

One industry certain to feel the effects is online marketing. Consider specifically influencer marketing, a field comprised mainly of small businesses which pioneered a concept that helped fuel the surge in social media advertising.

Tiffany RomeroIllustration: Alex Fine

The rise of influencer marketing is a true success story for the marketing industry and its growing community of social influencers. Last year, advertisers spent $570 million on influencer campaigns on Instagram alone, according to eMarketer. And a Gartner survey found that while marketing budgets seem to have peaked in 2017, “67 percent of CMOs plan to increase investment in digital advertising, including … 64 percent for social media.”

Open access to the internet has given people—especially women—more opportunities to get educated, build communities and start successful businesses in ways no one could have imagined 20 years ago. It created a marketplace that everyone can tap into and benefit from, regardless of their socioeconomic status or location.

Women are turning their online influence into real careers. They can make a living wage while working from a home office or studio. They can manage family responsibilities while setting their own schedules and pursue their passions while exercising their creativity. They are building true businesses, often employing staff or hiring independent contractors, and helping to grow our country’s economy while they’re at it.

In a refreshing twist to business as usual, women actually dominate the influencer marketing industry both in numbers and earnings. A total of 97 percent of the influencers in my agency’s network are women. And an article in a British newspaper Metro UK cited research that proclaimed influencer marketing, “the industry where women are guaranteed to earn more than their male counterparts.”

If we lose net neutrality, these thriving small businesses, and the entrepreneurs who founded them, will suffer, as will the growing number of people who choose to view and follow them. Content creators, influencers and online entrepreneurs just won’t be able to compete with larger businesses and websites.

Companies and consumers will find themselves paying more for an internet that is a shadow of its former self, where content we get to enjoy is either decided for us or comes at a premium. Influencers may find it prohibitive to maintain highly trafficked sites.

Schools—some already struggling to provide fast enough internet service for their students—may find themselves unable to meet educational needs. New ideas and startups that would flourish on today’s internet will have nowhere to live.

In a post-net neutrality world, video will become an asset viewable only by those able to pay for an internet package to deliver it or for a mobile plan with enough bandwidth to stream it. Influencers have been paying attention to the many studies showing that consumers want more video content—59 percent of executives agree that if both text and video are available on the same topic, they are more likely to choose video.

Online shoppers are more likely to make a purchase after viewing a demo video. Influencers and content creators have met this need, creating video content like step-by-step tutorials and hands-only recipe clips.

Both content creators and consumers will feel the repercussions as access to video content is limited or blocked. We could lose access entirely to the social networks that have become so ingrained in our lives and culture, that have provided platforms for major social movements and free speech. We won’t be able to depend on livestreaming to connect us with our online communities because many people may not have an internet package that supports it.

With an innate sense of how to connect with others, women in particular have found ways to maximize the potential of social networks as influencers. Net neutrality has fostered a more level playing field for jobs that allow them to be creative while building their brand and their business via personal communities, support networks and access to platforms like Instagram for marketing and sales. The undoing of net neutrality will limit these resources.

Women who have important stories to tell will be effectively silenced by the lack of consumer access to their words. The loss of the open Internet will change the economic landscape in our country as the effects of reversing net neutrality protections ripple out beyond cyberspace to touch the real world.

The result would be a classic example of unintended consequences affecting entrepreneurship, innovation, family-friendly workplaces and ultimately, women.

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This story first appeared in the Jan. 15, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.