The PJ Tatler

FEC Continues Push to Censor Political Speech on the Net

The three Democrats on the Federal Election Commission have failed once again to impose draconian new rules that would stifle political speech on the internet. In a 3-3 vote — with the three Republicans voting against the new rules — Democrats were thwarted in their efforts to impose strict reporting requirements on certain kinds of political speech.

The issue involves political ads that are posted free on YouTube and other internet venues. The problem comes when other sites, large and small, seek to disseminate the ads. The act of placing the ad on their site might open the blogger or website owner up to the same reporting requirements that the ad maker is responsible for.

Listen to this justification by FEC Vice Chairman Ann Ravel:

“Some of my colleagues seem to believe that the same political message that would require disclosure if run on television should be categorically exempt from the same requirements when placed in the Internet alone,” said FEC Vice Chair Ann M. Ravel in a statement. “As a matter of policy, this simply does not make sense.”

She said the FEC should no longer “turn a blind eye to the Internet’s growing force in the political arena,” and she vowed to force a conversation next year on what changes to make.

Oooh…we can’t have a “growing force in the political arena.” How else would the powers that be manage to control political thought?

The three Republican-backed commissioners, though, said in a joint statement that Ms. Ravel’s plans would stifle what’s become the “virtual free marketplace of political ideas and democratic debate.”

FEC Chairman Lee E. Goodman said what Ms. Ravel is proposing would require a massive bureaucracy digging into the corners of the web to police what’s posted about politics.

“I cannot imagine a regulatory regime that would put government censors on the Internet daily, culling YouTube video posts for violations of law — nothing short of a Chinese censorship board,” Mr. Goodman said.

The case disclosed Friday involved a group Checks and Balances for Economic Growth, which produced two advertisements it ran online in 2012 accusing President Obama of lying about a Mitt Romney campaign event, and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown of lying about the “war on coal.”

Initially, news reports had said the group was paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to broadcast the ads on television, but the group says they were only shown on the Internet.

FEC lawyers said the ads don’t expressly push for the election or defeat of a candidate, and said the commission’s own rules say the costs of posting videos to the Internet doesn’t trigger disclosure requirements. Meanwhile, an FEC precedent from 2008 says the costs of producing an Internet-only video also don’t trigger disclosure.

Get that? The FEC’s own general counsel said an investigation wasn’t necessary, but the Democrats on the commission wanted to go ahead and start one.

What is it about freedom of speech that drives some people nuts? The manifest benefits of a free, open, unfettered internet should convince even the most rabid regulator that putting a chill on political speech only benefits those who can afford it.

Cyber bullying a problem? Don’t read what’s written about you. If it’s so painful that it threatens your mental health, you have other issues besides being told you’re fat, or worthless by anonymous trolls. This notion that we need to criminalize speech that offends is directly contrary to the idea of the First Amendment.

Freedom is about choice. And limiting choices is what the FEC proposed regulatory ideas are all about. In fact, the free internet is under attack from many sides. Taxing sales through the internet will probably become a reality next year. The independence of the internet is being threatened as the US withdraws from its management. There is an effort by big internet service providers to create a “fast track” internet for their paying customers while slowing down the net for the rest of us.

So far, internet users have been able to band together to resist these assaults. But powerful national and international forces are at work to control internet content, internet ideas, and internet speech. Unless we remain vigilant, these forces will overwhelm our collective efforts to safeguard liberty and the internet will change forever.