Tuesday, July 24, 2007

On the Proper Use of Sledgehammers

Apparently, sites across the blogosphere agree that the proper use of rhetorical sledgehammers is in the swatting of flies. Or maybe it's just a slow news day.

John Bambenek, with whom I am usually pleased to be acquainted, delivered a well-reasoned but ill-informed complaint to the FEC about DailyKos, a popular liberal blog. Bambenek's complaint alleged that DKos is playing on the FEC's regulatory turf.

In response to public debate, the FEC last year issued a rule (pdf) concerning how Internet sites in general and blogs in particular should be treated. They read the very large amount of public comment on the matter and understood that web sites are fundamentally different from other media, those differences making them less in need of regulation. As I said at the time (Google cache),

Reading the rule, it was clear that the FEC was not just posturing in their attempt to defend free speech and apply a minimalist approach to regulation, of the blogosphere but of campaign speech in general. Their words have the ring of truth to them.

I wrote last week on this that the standard ought to be transmission, that if you cause something to appear that a person wasn't expecting and can't avoid, then you may need to be regulated. It seems the FEC, in looking at the comments people made to them, realized that while that would exclude web sites from regulation, that it didn't quite hit the mark; the standard ought to be money changing hands.

Given that there is regulation of any campaign ads, that's probably the best way to do it.

However, it isn't just money changing hands, but money changing hands causing people to stumble onto the content without wanting it. That doesn't fit DailyKos or any other web site, because in the end they are at the mercy of the mouse, which is under the control of a person.

So until Kos starts taking money for the purpose of forcing people to read his (poorly considered and generally incorrect) posts, there is no way the FEC needs to regulate his site. Bambenek is wasting everyone's time at best, and even if successful would be fouling his own portion of the commons.

But it's one thing for me, or even IlliniPundit, to say that. It's quite another for the blog heavyweights such as Mike Krempasky or NRO to bother with this sort of thing, and certainly to don sackcloth amid ashes for the crisis such a complaint portends. Now that is a real waste of time.

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