Protect online organizing: protest AOL e-mail tax

Jessica Clark

An unusual coalition of conservative and progressive groups, nonprofits, small businesses and others have banded together to protest a proposed AOL system which would charge users to pay to send e-mail: Affluent mass-emailers who are willing to pay AOL the equivalent of an "email tax" would get to bypass AOL's spam filters and get guaranteed delivery to the inboxes of AOL customers. Everyone who can't afford to pay AOL's "email tax" - including charities, small businesses, civic organizations, and even families with mailing lists - will have no guarantee that their emails will be delivered. If other companies follow AOL in adopting pay-to-send systems, the Internet will become permanently divided into two classes of users - those who can afford to pay for guaranteed delivery and everyone else left behind with unreliable service. Though billed in the media as an anti-spam and anti-phishing measure, AOL's pay-to-send system will fail on both scores. AOL's "email tax" will cause great harm to the free and open Internet that many of us take for granted. The Internet is a revolutionary force for free speech, civic organizing, and economic innovation specifically because it is open and accessible to all Internet users. With a free and open Internet, small ideas can become big ideas overnight. AOL's move to introduce a pay-to-send system is a danger to this openness, and we urge them to reconsider. Hints for taking action on this front here

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Jessica Clark is a writer, editor and researcher, with more than 15 years of experience spanning commercial, educational, independent and public media production. Currently she is the Research Director for American University’s Center for Social Media. She also writes a monthly column for PBS’ MediaShift on new directions in public media. She is the author, with Tracy Van Slyke, of Beyond the Echo Chamber: Reshaping Politics Through Networked Progressive Media (2010, New Press).
Democratic Rep. Summer Lee, who at the time was a candidate for the state House, at a demonstration in Pittsburgh for Antwon Rose, who was killed by police, in 2018. Lee recently defeated her 2024 primary challenger.
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