Posted on February 14, 2023
Free Press is fighting for digital civil rights and holding Big Tech accountable, thanks to CREDO members
Our amazing grantee partners at Free Press advocate for equitable and just media policy and work to clean up disinformation around our elections, disrupt organized hate online, fight for affordable internet access, secure Net Neutrality and revive local journalism.
In July 2022, CREDO members voted to donate $25,292 to help Free Press fight for digital civil rights and hold Big Media and Big Tech accountable for amplifying hate and disinformation. Since 2005, CREDO and our members have donated $420,618 to the organization.
Powered in part by the generosity of CREDO and our members, Free Press had some recent victories and launched some great new initiatives. Here’s a quick rundown from the organization:
CLOSING THE DIGITAL DIVIDE. First, a bit of a backstory: In 2021, Free Press Action advocacy paved the way for historic broadband provisions in the infrastructure package that President Biden signed into law. This investment in closing the digital divide included nearly $65 billion for broadband. A remarkable $14.2 billion of that total was dedicated to the creation of the FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program. The program, which launched this past year, provides households living near the poverty line or enrolled in other federal-aid programs with up to $30 per month for the internet package of their choosing from participating providers — and $75 per month for people living on Tribal lands.
Since our CREDO grant, Free Press helped shape this program while working closely with the FCC — and the agency’s final order reflects many of our recommendations (no small feat given the agency’s even split between Democratic and Republican commissioners). These include rules protecting against the predatory practice of “upselling” and using unfair credit-checking practices to deny service. As of January 2023, 16 million households have signed up to take part in this program, making internet service more affordable and accessible to struggling families.
PRISON PHONE JUSTICE FOR FAMILIES OF INCARCERATED PEOPLE. We celebrated in December 2022 when the Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act passed; alongside partners like Color Of Change, Worth Rises, and the United Church of Christ’s Media Justice Ministry, Free Press Action advocated for the bill which will allow the FCC to regulate exorbitant prison phone rates. We appreciate CREDO’s ongoing support, which has given us the capacity to educate lawmakers about this bill over the past several years. We applauded another win in December, when the Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act passed, an antitrust bill that raises the fees for companies and adds new disclosure requirements.
LANDMARK PRIVACY AND CIVIL RIGHTS BILL. In 2022 Free Press Action played a strong role in shaping the American Data Privacy and Protection Act (ADPPA), the strongest-ever comprehensive privacy bill to advance in Congress. The bill borrowed from model legislation we developed with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. While ADPPA was not enacted in 2022, it was voted out of committee in the House by a nearly unanimous bipartisan vote, setting the stage for advocacy and passage in the new Congress.
To help move the bill forward, Free Press Action was invited to speak to lawmakers about the need to address privacy alongside the growing disinformation crisis that is destabilizing our democracy. Senior Counsel and Director of Digital and Civil Rights Nora Benavidez participated in a congressional roundtable on the impact of mis- and disinformation on U.S. elections. “We must rein in abusive practices by social-media companies,” Benavidez said. “Their business models threaten to destabilize our democracy by amplifying lies and calls for violence, reaching audiences with a speed, precision and scale once unimaginable.”
STOPPED A MASSIVE GIVEAWAY TO MEDIA GIANTS. We’re seeing growing numbers of federal lawmakers introduce legislation like the JCPA in response to the local-news crisis. As these proposals emerge, policy analysis and advocacy in the public interest are needed, because, as analysis from Co-CEO Craig Aaron and Research Director S. Derek Turner shows, some federal proposals would benefit existing media giants — the very same companies that have gutted local newsrooms, spread disinformation and profited from runaway media consolidation. Thanks to our CREDO grant, Free Press Action led public-interest opposition to the so-called Journalism Competition and Preservation Act (JCPA) — an industry-written bill that would have given billions to incumbent media conglomerates like Fox, Sinclair and the hedge-fund vultures at Alden Global Capital — most recently preventing it from being snuck into a major defense-spending package.
STOP TOXIC TWITTER. We saw hate speech and disinformation campaigns intensify online ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, and tech companies were falling short of taking the steps needed to protect democracy. Before taking over Twitter, Elon Musk vowed that the platform wouldn’t become a “free-for-all hellscape.” But a series of destructive decisions Musk made in the run-up and aftermath of the 2022 elections shows how much of a threat to democracy billionaire-controlled platforms pose.
Musk fired thousands of people, including mass layoffs of content moderators and the entire human-rights team. He reinstated Donald Trump and scores of white supremacists. He also ditched long-standing content-moderation rules and reversed Twitter’s ban on COVID-19 misinformation, while ushering in thousands of fake and fraudulent accounts under his new Twitter Blue subscription service. In a disturbing precedent, Musk temporarily banned several tech journalists who had been watchdogging him.
When Elon Musk took the helm of Twitter in October 2022, Free Press partnered with Accountable Tech, Color Of Change, Media Matters for America and other allies to stand up an advertiser boycott campaign that resulted in over 50 percent of the top 100 advertisers leaving Twitter. Co-CEO Jessica González and close allies also met directly with Musk, extracting an essential promise from the billionaire not to reinstate banned accounts before the midterm elections. The longer-term impacts of our Stop Toxic Twitter campaign are still being felt at the company, which as of January 2023 has seen a daily revenue drop of 40% compared to a year ago, and the continued departure of 500 top advertisers.