Open Internet's next frontier: Telenovelas?

Proponents of Internet traffic regulations can learn something from the wisdom of telenovelas, at least according to a new guide aimed at grassroots organizers in the debate over net neutrality rules. 

The moving narratives in these TV shows can influence people's behavior and opinions, the guide says.

“One such example is Ven Conmigo, or Come with Me, which featured a storyline centered on an elderly man grappling with illiteracy,” says the instruction manual, a joint effort of Free Press, a consumer activist group, and the Harmony Institute, a nonprofit that helps organizers tap the persuasive ability of entertainment.

"After struggling to read letters sent from a favorite granddaughter, the grandfather seeks out a public literacy program," the guide continues.

The manual is titled “Net Neutrality for the Win: How Entertainment and the Science of Influence Can Save Your Internet.” Much of its content is standard hints for grassroots organizing. Be persistent and make the net neutrality story sound compelling, the guide advises.

But other tactics in the manual are less familiar in the tech policy debate. The instruction guide tells organizers to seize on the power of entertainment to help them get net neutrality regulations on the books. The sitcom Will & Grace is an example, according to the guide. 

“In 1998 NBC quietly introduced a primetime sitcom about a single woman and her male best friend living together in a Manhattan apartment to its line-up. Will & Grace chronicled the comedic escapades of a group of thirty-something, career-oriented friends,” the guide says. “It also happened that two of the main characters were homosexual men.”

Net neutrality is suited for the same medium, the guide says. 

“Over a decade later and countless hours of editorializing, homosexual characters on major network television are commonplace, and the effects of Will & Grace on the attitudes toward and perceptions of gays in America is widely recognized,” it continues. 

The guide also contains an interesting snapshot of demographics within grassroots efforts in favor of net neutrality. 

Core supporters, the guide says, are “between the ages of 18 and 39, predominantly male, Caucasian, and liberal leaning. ... Many core supporters are registered Democrats and have an annual household income of over $100k per year.”

So-called “persuadables,” people who do not identify net neutrality as either a problem or solution until they become more exposed to the issue, “tend to be African Americans and/or women, unmarried, and liberal. … Persuadables make annual households incomes ($30k-$50k) that are considerably lower than core supporters.”

The guide is a public document. It is available for free here