OK, you’re gonna hafta forgive me for this post; some errant code got into the first post, I tried to fit it, and my efforts only served to make the post more and more f’d up. Sheesh. You’d think HTML and computers were hard or somethin’. So I’ve adopted the scorched earth policy – I deleted the entire post with all manner of neat-o hyperlinks ‘n’ stuff and replaced it with this rather straight, boring text-only post. Sorry. Form follows function, after all.
At the OJR conference a week or so ago, I brought up the subject of HR 1606 – the "Online Freedom of Speech" Act. I expected the room to erupt in dark muttering about the intrusive "Big Gummint" and perhaps a good juicy fight between a couple of partisans. At the very least, I figured that a roomful of bloggers had heard about this pending legislation, and had some opinions about it.
(Cue SoundEffex: crickets chirp. Tumbleweed blows past. In the background, a windmill slowly creaks.)
However, after the session, a couple of people came up to me and asked me to send them some more information on this subject. Yesterday, I obliged â€“ well, sorta. I sent a message to Robert Niles at OJR and told him that he could send it out to the conference goers (conferees? Man, thereâ€™s gotta be a better word out there to denote this class of people that doesnâ€™t sound like it belongs on the mimeographed sheet for a Kansas church social).
Itâ€™s posted on the OJR blog, and Iâ€™ve excerpted it here.
I brought this up at the OJR conference, didn’t get a chance to get into it, and nobody else there seemed to have heard of it. Maybe it’s working here in a law office that has made me more sensitive to this kind of issue – most likely, being around lawyers who are paid to rack their brains to come up with "worst-case scenarios" for everything. The lawyers’ point of view is that unless the poorly written campaign finance bill that was passed in haste to prove that "See! Congress IS doing something about dirty money!" – unless that kludgy law is amended, in the future, if you want to have a discussion about politics, perhaps even come out in favor of a candidate you like – you’re going to have to register yourself and be approved by a governmental agency.
Apparently, this is already happening in Wisconsin: http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=388511
Obviously, this situation is a lot more complex that just a "Hey! They’re infringing on our right to free speech!" The flip side of this is that because of the unique status of bloggers and the web, they can operate like a newspaper and an arm of a political campaign at the same time… the law hasn’t quite caught up to technology yet.
As usual, the lawyers are running around with their hair on fire – much like how every damn story about how a young girl gets lured by an Internet predator gets huge play on TV and in the papers – there have been great essays on how every new technology goes through a period where it is viewed with panic as contributing to the incipient downfall of Civilization As We Know It, and the Internet has certainly spawned more than a few of these. Back on topic.
The remedy to this perceived problem is HR 1606, which, as I said, has been dubbed the "Online Freedom of Speech Act." I’m hoping that that does not turn out to be an ironic title like "Clear Skies Act" or "Patriot Act" or "Protect the Forests Initiative"…
This bill has garnered the support of both Daily Kos and Red State – which is a remarkable case study of blood enemies coming together against a mutual threat. Here’s a link to a pretty good round-up on Kos: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2006/3/14/101811/964
That being said: I am not sure I think that blogs and such should remain entirely unregulated. As more and more eyeballs migrate to the web, whatâ€™s to stop Richard Scaife/George Soros/Scrooge McDuck from opening up the moneybags and clogging the web with â€œElect My Puppetâ€ websites.
From buying â€œVote for Puppetâ€ ads on every goddam site out there? Thus violating the basic campaign spending law â€“ that being the one erected to try to keep the rich from just buying their way. Yeah, I know. Like itâ€™s really helped. Still. The campaign finance laws at least make Big Corporate and Politicians maintain some kind of propriety â€“ or have until recently. The flipside is that to regulate online media and blogs with this blunt tool is ill-advised.
The web may yet live up to its promise of allowing every little guy (such as me) with no real access to his own printing press to nonetheless stand up on a soapbox and bloviate about whateverinhell is on my mind these days. Forcing Kos or Atrios or Drudge to register with The Man before they can dare to talk about whatâ€™s on their minds is Not Good. Very Not Good. Any guesses on what happens when the Party In Power doesnâ€™t like your POV and decides â€“ well, not to deny you the right to speak. Itâ€™s just going to take a bit longer for you to get your license. And The Minions Oâ€™ The Man tend to stop by and check out your books a lot more often … at least, that’s how it worked in South America
As usual with the law, itâ€™s all going to be in how you define what is speech, what is a blog and how some kinds of speech/writings/videos are OK, while others are not. Try to figure out where to draw the line on this one â€“ are we going to have to resort to the old â€œI know it when I see itâ€ standard?