David Harbour, Jesse Williams Call for Net Neutrality at 2018 Webby Awards

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David Harbour (left) and Steven Soderbergh

The 22nd annual awards ceremony for the best of the internet featured a number of honorees speaking out: “Net neutrality, you greedy dickheads,” Harbour said Monday night at the event.

The 22nd annual Webby Awards were held at Cipriani Wall Street in Lower Manhattan on Monday night, and with just two days before a forced vote from Senate Democrats on the matter, one thing was on many attendees’ minds: the importance of net neutrality. As an awards ceremony dedicated to recognizing the year’s biggest internet visionaries and activists, the evening allowed for several honorees, including best actor winner David Harbour of Stranger Things, to get political at the podium with their five-word speeches.

“Net neutrality, you greedy dickheads,” said Harbour, channeling a passion previously seen in his acceptance speech for best ensemble in a drama series at the 2017 SAG Awards. Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter in the winners’ lounge later on Monday, the actor let his thoughts run longer. 

“Always with speeches, I feel like it’s an opportunity to say something,” Harbour said. “You’re at the Webby Awards, [so] let’s talk about the internet and let’s talk about the ways that people in power are dead-set [on] messing it up [and] making money out of it for the few, which is what this jackass chairman of the FCC [Ajit Pai] is doing right now. So yeah, I wanted to say something about that. I think that they are greedy, and I think that they’re dickheads.”

Net neutrality is the set of rules that ban internet providers like Verizon and Comcast from blocking or slowing down users’ access to specific websites and apps. With the support of all 49 Democrats and Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, Wednesday’s vote will repeal changes to Obama-era net neutrality rules implemented by the Republican-led Federal Communications Commission in December. This vote comes on the heels of the FCC announcing that its order to end net neutrality will come in effect June 11.

“It’s crazy that this is even something that we have to fight for,” said Webby Media Group CEO David-Michel Davies, speaking to THR before the ceremony’s afterparty. “The people who invented the internet and the people who invented every single one of the apps that every single one of us use every single day all stand for net neutrality. The only people who stand against it are the people who have never done any of those things in their entire life. There’s more to be done, but it’s really, really critical, and it’s good to see so many of our winners here tonight bring it up. We’ve gotta come at it from all angles, so let’s call them dickheads, and then let’s also go to the policy and be really smart about arguing for why we need to stand up for it.”

Grey’s Anatomy's Jesse Williams, another winner on the evening, also spoke on the importance of net neutrality. The actor was given a Webby Special Achievement Award for his efforts in inclusivity in the tech world — namely, for his game BLeBRiTY.

While his five-word speech was limited to a straightforward call-to-arms (“Afraid? Okay. Do it Afraid.”), Williams spoke with THR after his win about just who the rollback of net neutrality will affect.

“It seems so obvious to us — you’re going to control and narrow and clog pipelines for people to have access and then gouge them for money? WiFi and internet and access should essentially be a utility,” he said. “This is about our bloodstream now, frankly. We need water and electricity and power and part of our power is that ability. You can’t take it away. And who’s going to benefit and who’s going to suffer? The people who are going to suffer are poor folks who are systematically going to predominantly be black and brown folks and otherwise disenfranchised people that are always going to suffer at the hand of any kind of restrictions like this. That’s not OK, and we’re not going to allow it.”

Not all of the evening’s winners got political, however. While host Amber Ruffin dug deep into her trademark socially charged material, David Letterman and Adam Sandler, both special achievement honorees, also used their time at the mic for humor.

Letterman, dabbing his eyes and dramatically removing his glasses, said, simply, “Thank you. Tears of joy.” Sandler went on to speak from his gut — “How about that fuckin’ chicken?” — and Laura Linney, who took home best actress for her work on Ozark, spoke from her heart: “Kindness is not a weakness.”

Other honorees included #MeToo trailblazer Susan Fowler; March for Our Lives youth activists Naomi Wadler, Cameron Kasky and John Barnitt; Mosaic and Unsane director Steven Soderbergh; Ugly Delicious creator David Chang; NFL player Chris Long; artist FKA twigs; and, fittingly, Mozilla founder Mitchell Baker, who received the evening’s lifetime achievement award in part for her dedication to a free and open web.

Speaking with THR, Baker expressed optimism that net neutrality has become a national talking point.

“We’ve seen polls that [indicate] the vast majority of Americans support net neutrality, so I find it as confirmation that the American public understands what’s going on,” she said. “There’s these handful of companies that can decide yes or no, how much or how it works. And we have that system — it’s cable! The internet took off and succeeded because it’s not cable, so turning it back into cable [would] be a huge loss.”

The full ceremony can be watched on webbyawards.com.