When Arianna Huffington announced that she was selling the Huffington Post to AOL for $315 million she blogged that “this moment will be … like stepping off a fast-moving train and onto a supersonic jet.”
But now we’re left wondering where that jet’s headed. And if we have our seatbelts on.
For years, Huffington has championed net neutrality. That is, an Internet free from corporate and government restrictions which would ensure that users could visit any site they want, rather than letting their Internet service provider limit them to only “approved” sites. Major companies like Comcast and Verizon are pushing the FCC to allow them to do just that, and recent decisions haven’t been going too well.
And who initiated this debate over Internet freedom? Josh Stearns, Associate Program Director for the net neutrality advocacy group Free Press, puts the blame on American Online, Huffington’s new boss. Uh-oh.
[AOL] wanted to essentially block and shape and charge extra for various kinds of email content, which meant that they would be looking into your email to decide what kind of email content you have. That was the first time the net neutrality debate came to the forefront. There was a huge, huge response to stop AOL’s scheme.
While AOL has changed a lot since—like breaking away from TimeWarner and focusing on content production—its history indicates that it doesn’t care about protecting the web.
So can Huffington continue to argue for a free Internet now that she’s blogging for the enemy?
I cannot believe Arianna will ever change her position on net neutrality, but what happens when she leaves or what happens when she focuses on other properties that AOL might buy? That’s the concern … I worry about slippage at the Huffington Post without her focus.
Based on a recent blog post, Cohen wonders if she’s already losing her footing.
For the first time ever, reading something Arianna had written it looked like PR corporate spin … when people say, “well, have you seen things change?”—that column was a big change. Instead of going after corporate America, she was bragging about being a part of an international media company. It was like Stepford wife Arianna.”
The message echoing from Huffington and her new AOL overlords—that “1+1=11”— sounds like a twist on Orwell’s “2+2=5”
However, the fate of Huffington’s advocacy is still up in the air. Stearns believes the merger doesn’t necessarily harm the discussion of online freedom on her site.
Properties like Engadget, which are also owned by AOL, also did some very good net neutrality reporting, including an extensive interview with the law professor Tim Wu who coined the net neutrality term. So other reporting platforms under AOL’s management have done a good job with this.
So maybe Huffington will work some of her magic on AOL, we’ll see.