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Viral conservative journalist challenges post-net neutrality fear

Daily Caller journalist Benny Johnson. Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore

A controversial speech at CU Denver stirs up conversation

By Nikki Martinez – Guest writer

Amid memes of the Muppets, Adolf Hitler, and a scene from Terminator 2, Daily Caller journalist Benny Johnson said he used his viral meme-making skills to challenge post-net neutrality fear and defend the free market in a March 8 speech held at CU Denver.

In the one-hour speech titled “We’re all Dead: Life After Net Neutrality,” Johnson led the audience through his career as a viral political journalist that began when he created memes comparing congress members to Muppets up to his most recent feat, a video that he created with Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai that satirizes panic about the FCC’s 2017 repeal of net neutrality.

“Companies pay me to make viral content that goes big on the internet,” Johnson said. His web-based journalism career includes roles at conservative publications Breitbart, The Blaze, IJReview, and as viral politics editor at Buzzfeed. This makes him invested in a free internet that leaves behind net neutrality—regulatory legislation that made it so internet service providers couldn’t favor or block content and had to allow access to all content and apps regardless of source.

Because of Johnson’s pro-repeal views and viral reputation, Pai approached him to make a video dismissing net neutrality repeal criticism. Together they created the video “7 things you can still do after net neutrality” that included binge-watching shows and Instagramming food.

The video, which quickly went viral, attempts to address the nation’s “post-apocalyptic” reaction to repeal—a reaction Johnson credited to media framing. He displayed headlines from the publications Slate, Forbes and CNN that claimed the FCC was destroying the internet. “So net neutrality is going to destroy us all? Since it’s been repealed, we’re all going to die,” Johnson said.

He played a satirical clip of the chairman after the FCC decision in which Pai, cut from the original video, smiles and eats popcorn as people burn to death in a Terminator 2 scene. “This is was what many Americans believe will happen when the Obama-era legislation ends on April 23, 2018,” Johnson said.

“Any call for net neutrality is misguided,” Johnson said. “You are not entitled to the internet. Your tax dollars do not pay for the internet.” Because ISPs spend billions of dollars on web infrastructure and are not government funded, they shouldn’t be federally regulated, he said.

The internet reaction to the viral video was highly critical. Johnson played one angered YouTube personality’s video. In it was a meme of Pai happily watching a speech by Hitler. Johnson rewound and paused the video on a frame of the YouTuber’s face. “Look at his face. So triggered,” Johnson said.

Johnson explained that the negativity over the video was welcome. “The point of this was to get that reaction. What it did was create a vehicle for millions of people to talk about net neutrality,” he said.

Johnson’s campus visit was sponsored by Turning Point USA, a well-funded nonprofit conservative organization with over 1,000 chapters in the United States and a mission to build an organized, active, and powerful conservative grassroots activist network on college campuses across the country.

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