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Friday, August 05, 2005

Keep Speech Free!

We Must All Hang Together, Gentlemen, or Most Assuredly, We Will All Hang Separately.

Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790), Remark, July 4, 1776, at the siging of the Declaration of Independence

Attention fellow Bloggers! The Officialdom of Washington is after you, and you have scant time to respond!

As part of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance laws, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) is preparing regulations to declare blogging to be an ‘in-kind contribution’, and thus subject to Federal election restrictions. This would be unique – there are no restrictions on editorials, on letters to the Editor, on comments made on television, and so on. These are all part of the exempt Mainstream Media (MSM, as we cyber-folk call it). Only online sites and blogging are being considered for these restrictions.

How did politicians like Senator McCain discover this? Well, Howard Dean wasn’t the only cyber-candidate in 2000 – below is a portion of an article from ComputerWorld in March 2000 –

John McCain's Internet success in the presidential primaries will incite sweeping changes in U.S. politics. As television reinvented politics in the wake of the Kennedy-Nixon debates in 1960, so will the Net change the ways candidates campaign and voters vote.
· It will become the most efficient campaigning channel. McCain's New Hampshire "bounce" spelled an online cash infusion and invigorated an insurgent campaign that four years ago would have had to wait anxiously by the mailbox for donations. The Internet also amplifies the benefits of free media exposure, especially from TV, and lets candidates bypass the party establishment to connect directly with voters and their wallets, which was key for McCain.
Additionally, it lowers the costs of raising money; voters come to the campaign, rather than leaving it up to the campaign to reach out through expensive fund
raisers, mass mailings or TV ads. In the future, candidates will use personalization technology to tailor their messages to constituents, taking cues from dot-coms and offering visitors experiences that match their desires. The "tax calculator" on Bush's site offers an early example of personalization that will become the norm on candidates' sites.
· Hyperinformed voters switch parties seamlessly. The Net further liquefies voters' fluid party affiliations. Voters have a wealth of information available to them online, as well as the ability to seek information on specific issues. Voters can jump quickly to support candidates whose agendas they support. This same widespread availability of information will also allow third-party candidates to quickly gain voters' attention because their campaign messages around narrow issues can be cheaply and efficiently communicated. Already, sites like SelectSmart.com and Candidatecompare.com allow voters to find the candidates who most closely match their views.

It is easy to see why this worries election regulators. Blogging in cheap, largely uncompensated, and almost impossible to track. Additionally, while some candidates do have on-staff Bloggers (the Romney presidential site is run by a person who may or may not be a volunteer, for example), most blogging is – well, let us say undirected is the nicest way to say it. For instance, while I chose to link to the Romney site, I did not notify them, and have no idea if they are even aware that I have. In the same way, I have only a limited ability to find out who ah chosen to link to my site, which then links to the Romney site, etc. If they are over their limit, and a person find the Romney site through me, am I then over limit? Blogs link to blogs – lists like Technocrati, JoeAnt, and Globe o’Blogs. I am currently a Slithering Reptile in the TTLB Ecosystem (proud to rank 9,495 out of 33,421), I am a link on Hub Politics, I have been mentioned on blogs as diverse as Cape Cod Living and Radio Equalizer – have they unwittingly donated to Romney’s effort as well?

The FEC seems most concerned with blogs that accept advertising – which as it happens, I do not. However, it appears this works against me as salon.com and slate.com are being considered for so-called ‘media exemptions’. Humble scriveners such as I, mere volunteers, are to be excluded from this media exemption. This indicates that the discrimination of MSM against blogging is bipartisan and directly related to their bottom lines from advertisers. However, if you view my blog through the prism of Cape Cod Today, where the most excellent Blogfather does accept advertising, am I unregulated for that post?

And what about the poor politicians who have no idea I even mentioned them? How are they to report on their filings my compliment? Is there need to report insults and slurs – or do those merely rebound as a compliment to the opponent who then has to report that derogation?

More information can be found at The Online Coalition -
http://www.onlinecoalition.com/blog. It is to be hoped that the FEC will give up trying to control such as hydra-headed beast as blogs. Blogs will be used in elections, and in other efforts to change government (hello, COG!). It is not going away, and of the quarter million blogs estimated to be in existence – how can any candidate track every chance remark? We are media, and deserve to be exempt. However, in the meantime, please contact our twelve Federal officials, tell them that bloggings should remain free and unregulated, and in the words of the immortal song,

Let us raise up our glasses
Against Evil Forces, singing
Whiskey for my Men
And Beer for my Horses!

Yr. Obedient Servant,
William Cobbett
Peter Porcupine, Scrivener and
Cyber (formerly Inky) Wretch


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