Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Internets

A bit behind here, but I want to highlight something Markos wrote:

I don't understand how he can say that blogs should be able to "do whatever they like, say what they want, and link to whoever and whatever they want, with no interference", when just a sentence or two later he says that bloggers should have to disclose ties to campaigns. That's unacceptable, and something that applies to no other medium. There is an issue of fairness involved. Because last time I checked, I didn't see Luntz disclosing his clients while on TV, or Carville. Or any of the lot with their tangled conflicts of interest.

This is the key issue. It isn't about whether the internet should have some sort of exception that the rest of the media doesn't enjoy - the rest of the media already enjoys it. The question is why the internet should be singled out for disclosure requirements that other outlets for expression aren't subject to. The consultant/pundit class would be shut down if they had to list off all their conflicts of interest every time they appeared in print or on radio/tv. I think transparency is always a good thing, but that's very different from having a legal disclosure requirement which only applies to internet activities.

To put it another way, let's say I turn my blog over to Joe Trippi for a few weeks. Would he have to post up his full client list on the blog? Doesn't sound unreasonable, except for the fact that he never had to do so when appearing on MSNBC or any other outlet. Not picking on Trippi, just making the point that these kinds of disclosure requirements would be, contrary to what seems to be conventional wisdom, unique to the internet.

Right now campaigns can, in theory, hire thousands of people to spend their time calling talk radio programs, writing letters to the editor, etc... None of these activities currently would require disclosure, other than the normal FEC filing requirements of the candidates. However, people think that paying someone who runs a blog or paying people to troll message boards somehow is more important - that every message board poster affiliated with a candidate should put a disclosure after every post, when that same talk radio caller would not have any legal obligation to do so.

Astroturf type campaigns of all sorts are a little seedy, but they're not new to the internets.

...one more thing -- I don't think the internet should be exempt from all FEC regulation. I think a blog which was essentially an extension of a campaign - that is, someone is hired to blog to elect a candidate would qualify as an explicit advertisement, and requiring disclosure on advertisements is fine by me. Sure, there are potential grey areas here, but that's always the case. But, the idea that internet speech which isn't explicit advertising should have disclosure requirements which don't exist anywhere else is just ridiculous.