FEC’s Latest Rule Regulating Online Speech is Akin to Book Burning

Sean Noble
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Posted: Jan 15, 2015 12:23 PM
FEC’s Latest Rule Regulating Online Speech is Akin to Book Burning

The great Library of Alexandria stored untold amounts of knowledge from the ancient world. It was not only an impressive monument to the achievements of ancient mankind but also a place where the knowledge behind these achievements could be viewed and shared for the betterment of man… at least until it burned to the ground. The World Wide Web has become the modern equivalent to the ancient library, storing endless amounts of knowledge and information, all available at click. Unfortunately, the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) and their new Chairperson Ann Ravel are playing with matches.

In 2006, the FEC, under Republican leadership, ruled that the Internet was to remain free of regulation on political speech. While the FEC still regulates specific spending and contributions to campaigns, political parties, and political action committees and the advertisements they pay for on radio, print, television, and the Internet as well, the regulatory body agreed that regulating political speech online is a mistake.

“The [2006] rule opened a robust national forum for political discussion about public policy,” says Lee E. Goodman, current FEC commissioner and former chairman. Now, he explains, this forum in under threat from current FEC leadership. FEC Chair Ann Ravel is seeking to begin regulating political speech online in the same way that paid political advertisements are now. This would have an absolutely chilling effect on free speech in the United States. Ms. Ravel seems to simply not grasp what the Internet truly is and how it works. The Internet is a library of information that moves at the speed of light.

Nearly ever American has access to the Internet in one way, shape, or form. Within seconds, people can access information on any topic they are interested in from countless sources and perspectives. Just as I can go to a library and check out a copy of the Communist Manifesto as well as the Road to Serfdom, I can visit the websites of Think Progress and then seconds later gain back my sanity here on Townhall. I can read the thoughts of liberal and conservative economists on their various blogs. If I am strapped for time, I can watch informative videos on YouTube. I can also use the Internet to instantly communicate and share information with, or perhaps debate, people from all across the country and all over the world. All of these political perspectives contribute to what the Internet actually is: knowledge. Knowledge, as they say, is power. The Internet provides the power to challenge our elected officials in ways they have never been challenged before.

The Internet is a massive library containing nearly the entire collective knowledge of mankind that has peacefully cracked the government’s monopoly on power. Of course, the government hates the competition. Thus their solution is to burn down the library.

The FEC wants to force independent bloggers – which could mean anyone with a Facebook page, Tumblr account, or Twitter feed - posting anything even tangentially related to politics and public policy through rigorous regulations and disclosure requirements. Any individual or fledgling organization without a good lawyer is effectively silenced while the FEC forces everyone that is left to attach disclaimers to their opinions and publications if they are approved by Big Sister Ravel. This is a clear violation of the Constitution. To be clear, the First Amendment does not say, “Freedom of speech and the press shall only be abridged to the extent that speech is first stamped with a government seal of approval; all violators shall be subject to stiff fines and/or incarceration.”

The Internet and its users move at the speed of now. Information and opinions related to important topics of public policy don’t have the time to go through a legal vetting process imposed by the FEC. People will simply forgo participating in the process, which would be a tragedy for our supposed “democracy.” Opinions, even to the extent that they are supported by incorrect information, do not need to be counterbalanced by the heavy hand of government. They are counterbalanced by other information and opinions, which should be allowed to flow freely on the Internet.

The FEC’s proposal stands to only discourage political speech and the sharing of relevant knowledge, practices which have simply transferred from our unregulated street corners and libraries to our computers. The Internet is a 21st Century library where people can go to find great stories, pertinent opinions, and critical information about our society from endless perspectives.

Just because Ann Ravel and her Democratic colleagues on the FEC don’t seem to grasp that, doesn’t give them an excuse to burn it all down and destroy the First Amendment in the process.