Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The First Amendment Applies Online, Too!

There has been much talk about determining how
much leeway political speech, or at least that from
certain quarters, should have online. Some people
(mainly those to the left of center) think that conser-
vatives have too much of a presence in cyberspace,
and that regulations of some sort will guarantee
other voices (again, mainly lefties) will have 
supposedly equal access and forum for their views.
But consider the following:

Ten years ago, The Federal Election Commission (FEC)
pondered whether it should regulate political content
posted on the Internet. In 2006 the commission 
unanimously approved a rule which freed the great
majority of political commentary on the Internet from
governmental regulation. This rule, casually known as
the Internet Freedom Rule, exempted all political
commentary distributed online for free by citizens
and groups alike, whether in e-mail or on blogs,
websites, or social media websites such as Facebook,
Twitter, and such. The commission retained jurisdiction 
over just a few limited areas: political parties, political
campaigns, and political action committees, and all others
who posts electoral advocacy online for an advertising fee.

This rule empowered millions of citizens to speak widely
as bloggers (like your favorite Peasant!), podcasters, 
YouTube posters, and such, reaching a nationwide audience.
New political communities have been formed online.
Political speech flourished as a result, with the Internet
becoming the nation's town hall, if you will.

But liberals have begun to call for investigations of 
conservative groups for posting political videos on 
YouTube without first reporting them to the FEC. 
The commission voted to investigate one such group,
voting along party/ideological lines; the two Republicans
voted no, the two Democrats and the lone independent
voted yes. This case generated a wave of protest from
citizens wanting the Internet to remain unfettered
by regulation, with nearly 2,000 comments submitted 
to the FEC to that effect. 

The FEC should stick to their 2006 rule and expand 
Internet freedom, for the low cost of a personal computer
and a monthly connectivity charge, people can reach
millions of people. The Internet has been a force for 
democracy for modern journalism, enabling so many
people to become online publishers of opinions and
ideas. Furthermore, the FEC has no authority to regulate
political speech for the purpose of limiting same, except
for regard to large monetary contributions that have 
corruptive potential. Also, citizens have the right and 
the ability to seek the viewpoints that they want to hear from. 
Government should not be allowed to impose regulatory 
hurdles to the ability to access these viewpoints. This would,
of course, fly in the face of the First Amendment.

Finally, the FEC would have no effective means of 
monitoring the Internet to find posts meriting its investigative
eye. And that is a good thing, lest the dread chill of govern-
mental presence be at the backs of all those who wish to
share political ideas and opinions. This is what happens
in countries with totalitarian governments. And for this reason
alone FEC regulation of content on the Internet, to the degree 
which some in our country would like to see, should never
be implemented nor encouraged.

If we are to remain a free country, we must foster and maintain
open channels of communication. To do anything to the contrary 
would undermine one of our most important freedoms: freedom
of speech. 


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