Daily Media Links 11/8: Tech and Congress did themselves no favors in hearings, Even Trump has a right to free speech, and more…

In the News

Americans for Prosperity: Prosperity Podcast #80: Honest Ads Act is a Threat to Free Speech

After the 2016 elections, it was revealed that foreign agents bought around $100,000 in social media ads. In response, some members of the House and Senate are seeking stricter regulations on political speech on social media. Is this a necessary step to preserve the integrity of American elections or another example of the erosion of free speech? In this episode, Ed is joined by Allen Dickerson, the legal director for the Institute for Free Speech, who highlights the dangers to speech of regulating online speech.

New from the Institute for Free Speech

2016 Online Ad Spending in Perspective

By Alex Cordell

In recent weeks, the use of online advertisements by Russia to meddle in the 2016 campaign has featured heavily in news stories. Those in favor of expanding the current regulatory framework would have you believe that the problem is great enough to warrant, even necessitate, government intervention. Check out the Institute for Free Speech’s newest infographic to see just how expansive these ads were compared to overall spending in the 2016 cycle.

Internet Speech Regulation

Axios: Tech and Congress did themselves no favors in hearings

By Dave McCabe

Many people who followed last week’s Russia hearings with Google, Facebook and Twitter thought both sides came out worse for it, losing confidence in how the companies and congressional leaders are addressing foreign election interference, according to an Axios-SurveyMonkey Poll…

More Americans are now wary of the government going too far to regulate web platforms than before the hearings.

In a slight shift from the survey two weeks ago, a narrow majority of Americans now believe social media helps (rather than hurts) democracy and free speech.

Americans weren’t impressed by tech firms’ explanation of how Russian actors took advantage of their platforms during the 2016 election, but most people still don’t embrace regulating the web platforms to prevent it from happening again…

[T]he wariness of government regulation is widespread and bipartisan enough to be a warning to lawmakers who want to pursue it…

After the hearings, 57% said that they are concerned the government will go too far in regulating the operations of technology companies, up from 52% before the hearings. The skepticism was up across party lines, but independents shifted the most – a 7 percentage point increase.

MediaPost: FEC Commissioner Wants Google, Twitter And Facebook To Weigh In On Disclosure Rules

By Wendy Davis

Federal Election Commissioner Ellen Weintraub has reached out to Facebook, Google and Twitter to ask for their input on possible new rules regarding online election ads.

“It would be particularly helpful for the Commission to receive information regarding the current state of Twitter’s advertising technology and its ability to to provide disclaimer information on paid poltiical advertising,” Weintraub wrote in a letter that she posted on Twitter on Monday.

The FEC recently opened a proceeding to explore whether online ads must include the same disclaimers as TV and newspaper ads. The agency is accepting comments until November 9.

Weintraub sent a similar letter to Google, but also asked that company how the landscape may have changed since 2010, when the FEC issued an advisory opinion regarding search ads… 

In her letter to Facebook, Weintraub asked whether the company revised its stance since 2011, when it argued that the “character-limited ads” on the service were so physically small that disclaimers shouldn’t be required. 

Cato: The Internet, Political Polarization, and the 2016 Election

By Levi Boxell, Matthew Gentzkow, and Jesse M. Shapiro

The purported role of the Internet in politics goes beyond political polarization – it has also been cast as an important determinant of election outcomes. Hillary Clinton, in a postelection interview with Recode, argued that Facebook, Russian intervention, and fake news were instrumental in her 2016 election loss… 

In our work, we use survey data from the American National Election Studies to calculate a set of eight different measures of political polarization that have increased in recent years. These include measures of the prevalence of splitting votes across multiple parties and of the frequency with which individuals hold ideologically consistent views across a range of policy issues. We combine these eight measures into a single index of political polarization… 

In 2016, individuals 65 and older had social media usage rates that were roughly one-third the usage rates of young adults (18-39). Likewise, those in the older group were half as likely to have seen campaign news about the 2016 election online as their younger counterparts.

If access to the Internet or social media use is a primary driver of political polarization among the U.S. electorate, we would expect to see greater changes in polarization among young adults (18-39) than among the old (65 and older). The data, however, tell a different story.

Wall Street Journal: Keep Twitter Accountable Without Censorship

By Adam Candeub and Mark Epstein

In reaction to political censorship on social media, many populist conservatives, including Tucker Carlson, Ann Coulter, and Steve Bannon, have called for the platforms to be publicly regulated. This sentiment spans the political spectrum. After Twitter suspended Harvey Weinstein accuser Rose McGowan, left wing journalist Glenn Greenwald tweeted: “At some point, it will hopefully become clear that demanding Silicon Valley executives regulate online speech is a terrible idea.”

But there is a way to change incentives so that the most popular communications platforms aren’t controlled by either the tech moguls or the government… 

Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act grants “interactive computer services,” such as Twitter, Google, YouTube and Facebook , near total immunity for their users’ content…

Congress justified this gift on the grounds that “the Internet and other interactive computer services offer a forum for a true diversity of political discourse.” But with many of these internet services now restricting political discourse, Congress should condition its largesse: Section 230 immunity should be available only to internet companies that do not engage in prohibiting viewpoint discrimination against their users.

Free Speech

Washington Post: Do Americans support free speech on college campuses? Absolutely. Except sometimes.

By Christopher Ellis

For years, social scientists have been exploring public support for civil liberties, and their work can help us understand what people actually believe. To build on this, the Bucknell Institute for Public Policy sponsored a nationally representative survey, conducted in late July and early August by YouGov, in which we asked about campus free speech.

The results are complicated. Yes, Americans generally support free speech on campuses – but sometimes they’re willing to restrict it. How they would restrict it varies by partisan identity. Democrats and Republicans’ caveats about free speech varies depending on who is doing the speaking – and who tells them that free speech is worth supporting…

[L]arge numbers of people on both sides of the political divide say colleges should not restrict speech for any reason – but simultaneously say they are open to restrictions for a number of specific reasons…

Abstractly speaking, free speech is generally viewed as good by nearly all; it is protected in the Bill of Rights and seen as central to protecting a free democratic society.

But when presented with specific situations where free expression might conflict with other sincerely held values, the context changes.

CNN: Even Trump has a right to free speech

By Marc Randazza

Back in March 2016, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, annoyed by protesters at one of his rallies said, “Get ’em out of here,” followed closely by, “Don’t hurt ’em – if I say go ‘get ’em,’ I get in trouble with the press.”

Despite his admonition, Trump supporters assaulted three protesters. Those three protesters are seeking to hold Trump liable for what people in the crowd did.

The trial court denied the defense’s motion to dismiss, but the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals is taking the unusual step of hearing an interlocutory appeal. The Sixth Circuit will now consider whether statements like Trump’s are actionable.

If these claims survive, it will chill free speech, political and otherwise. It is not that I approve of Trump’s words, but as a sworn defender of the First Amendment, I am honor-bound to defend his right to say them — even if he might have a tense relationship with the First Amendment.

If you feel differently, I ask you to take a breath and follow me down free speech lane.

FEC

Politico: Scofflaw Political Groups Are Ignoring FEC Fines

By Dave Levinthal

More than 160 political committees and similar groups together owe the government more than $1.3 million worth of unpaid fines, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of Federal Election Commission and U.S. Treasury records since 2000…

Commissioners argue – and agency records confirm – that the FEC collects on the vast majority of fines it doles out for election law violations great and small. This decade, the FEC has, on average, assessed about $997,000 in fines each year…

The FEC and U.S. Treasury could, however, choose to more regularly sue problem political committees in federal court, if only to make examples out of them. The FEC could also decide to more frequently void payment agreements violated by fined political committees, potentially causing the committees additional legal headaches…

[T]he agency could ask Congress to give it more power or resources to punish the most troublesome political committees. For example, it could ask to keep fines it collects to bolster litigation efforts. Congress could also increase the FEC’s modest budget – just north of $71 million during fiscal year 2017 – to include, for example, more collection and enforcement specialists.

Disclosure

The Guardian: US campaign finance laws resemble legalized bribery. We must reform them

By Russ Feingold

Disclosure of campaign-related contributions used to be a minimum standard on which everyone could agree. But, since 2002, the supreme court issued its horrible ruling on Citizens United, and the Republican party sold out to dark money. Now, the Republicans’ only goal with campaign finance is opening the floodgates as wide as they possibly will go and, sadly, many Democrats have a childish “everybody does it” approach and mistakenly think they can compete with conservative funders…

The California Disclose Act, which passed the California senate and assembly with bipartisan support, requires political advertisements to list the top three donors of $50,000 or more. It also prevents dark money from hiding behind middle men, by requiring donors to be listed even if their money is funneled through obscure committees…

The US Congress has an opportunity to follow California’s lead. Senator Tom Udall and Representative David Price introduced a comprehensive approach to campaign finance reform in September. The We the People Democracy Reform Act of 2017 would tackle some of the most pressing challenges today pertaining to our democratic legitimacy, including campaign finance reform and the lack of transparency…

The States

Spokane Spokesman-Review: How Democrats win to take control of Washington Senate will affect 7 issues

By Jim Camden

Campaign Finance Reform: Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, has pushed for better disclosure for “dark money” – contributions that can be hidden if they come through certain nonprofit organizations. It previously passed both chambers in slightly different versions but stalled in the final vote through a parliamentary procedure. The majority party controls such parliamentary procedures.

Columbia Missourian: Missouri Supreme Court hears case on campaign finance violation

By Annika Merrilees

The Missouri Supreme Court heard oral arguments for Robin Wright-Jones v. Missouri Ethics Commission Tuesday, a case involving the former state senator’s campaign committee finances…

According to a brief submitted by their attorney, the Missouri Ethics Commission investigated Wright-Jones’ campaign finance records, bank statements, Ethics Commission reports and other records as part of its investigation into her violations.

In total, Wright-Jones and her campaign committee were charged nearly $230,000.

Wright-Jones’ attorney, Bernard Edwards Jr., submitted a brief that said that the fees assessed against Wright-Jones by the Missouri Ethics Commission are “unauthorized by law and are unconstitutional.” The brief said that “the Missouri Ethics Commission may not assess fines for violation of state statutes or rules and regulations of the agency,” and that the fines were excessive.

Furthermore, Wright’s attorney argued that the fine could not be imposed without a fair trial.

Herald-Whig: With court ruling, Missouri Legislature should act on campaign finance

By Editorial Board

Amendment 2, approved with 70 percent of the vote last November, limited individual contributions to candidates for state and judicial offices to no more than $2,600 per election.

It also prohibited corporations and labor unions from making direct contributions to candidates, and political action committees (better known as PACs) from transferring money among themselves…

The amendment was “a poorly crafted overreach,” as noted in a Herald-Whig pre-election editorial that urged lawmakers to write a bill that could withstand legal challenges.

As predicted, a federal judge ruled in May that the law was too broad…

When Amendment 2 came up for a vote last year, Missouri was one of a handful of states without limits on campaign donations. Now it has a campaign limit of $2,600 that doesn’t do much because contributions to PACs are not capped…

Petitions for a new ballot initiative to eliminate the loophole already are circulating and could be decided by voters next November. That’s better than nothing, but it would be better if lawmakers dealt with campaign finance limits on political action committees through legislation, rather than as constitutional amendments.

Speak Your Mind

*

The Center for Competitive Politics is now the Institute for Free Speech.