Daily Media Links 11/15

November 15, 2019   •  By Alex Baiocco   •  
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In the News

Asbury Park Press: Courts come to defense of free speech in New Jersey, New York

By David Keating

Free speech recently scored big victories in federal court against laws passed in New York and New Jersey that would have kneecapped nonprofits. The two laws set up a maze of rules for any group advocating any public policy and invaded the privacy of their supporters…

The courts said each state went too far. Judges either struck down or set aside each law as unconstitutional.

“Most constitutionally troubling … is [that the law] brings communications of purely factual political information into a disclosure and financial-reporting regime historically limited to electioneering,” Judge Brian R. Martinotti wrote about New Jersey’s law.

Judge Denise Cote described New York’s law as requiring disclosure whenever a group “engages in pure issue advocacy…. And that position need only ‘relat[e] to . . . potential legislation.'” Virtually any topic of public importance could be a subject of “potential legislation.”

And lest you think the plaintiffs, which included the ACLU Foundation and Americans for Prosperity, got lucky because conservative judges reviewed the laws, you’d be wrong. President Obama appointed Judge Martinotti and President Clinton appointed Judge Cote.

Some may ask what privacy has to do with free speech. Yet the two are inextricably linked. The Supreme Court has long recognized that the Constitution guarantees every American the right “to pursue their lawful private interests privately and to associate freely with others in so doing.” Government efforts to monitor and surveil who you speak to, or what organizations you join, undermine our freedom to speak and associate as we wish.

Los Angeles Daily News: Social media surveillance a threat to liberty

By Editorial Board

Social media monitoring by law enforcement agencies has drawn scrutiny from a coalition of free speech and civil rights groups, raising important questions about privacy as well as oversight of the use of government power.

A statement released on Nov. 6 was signed by more than 50 organizations including the Brennan Center for Justice, the ACLU, the Institute for Free Speech and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. It cites harmful impacts from social media surveillance that should concern lawmakers and the public.

Of particular concern, activities protected by the First Amendment could be stifled or chilled by online surveillance. Local police and federal agencies have monitored social media to track political protests and events. “This information may be disseminated to other federal, state and local government agencies, which leads to further surveillance, watchlisting, unnecessary interactions with law enforcement, and more dire consequences, such as overreaching immigration enforcement,” the groups stated.

Congress

Vox: Exclusive: 2 Democrats are introducing a bill to ban corporate PACs

By Ella Nilsen

On Friday, Reps. Max Rose (NY) and Josh Harder (CA) will introduce the “Ban Corporate PACs Act,” which would ban for-profit corporations from being allowed to sponsor, operate, or fund PACs. Vox was given an exclusive first look at the legislation.

The bill’s co-authors see it as a necessary addition to the HR 1 …

“We always said HR 1 was just the beginning,” Rose told Vox in an interview. Rose called corporate PACs “legalized bribery” that “should not have a place in this town.”

His co-author, Harder, agreed. Nodding to the 2020 election, the members of Congress noted that while nearly all Democratic candidates running for president have taken a no-corporate PAC pledge, and multiple Democrats running for House and Senate have done the same thing – the idea should be mandatory…

“This bill is a response to a feeling out in the country about who has power in Washington and who should have power in Washington,” said Patrick Burgwinkle, communications director for End Citizens United.

Online Speech Platforms 

Politico: Twitter rolls out total ban on ads from political figures

By Nancy Scola

Twitter Friday unveiled the details of a previously announced far-reaching global policy that bans campaign advertising as well as ads of any type from political figures and groups, and puts strict limits around other types of paid messaging that have a political dimension…

“Political reach should be earned and not bought,” said Vijaya Gadde, Twitter’s head of legal and policy at Twitter during a press call – drawing a contrast with Facebook, which has rejected calls for a similar ban, contending that political advertising is an important element of free expression that benefits political challengers and grassroots campaigns.

Twitter is banning all ads that mention specific candidates, elections, or legislation. The ban on any advertising applies to campaigns, government officials, PACs and 501(c)(4) groups…

The total ban on political ads, however, does not extend to so-called issue ads – “cause-based” advertising in Twitter parlance…

Under the new policy, those ads can’t call for political or regulatory outcomes, and anyone placing them won’t be able to target them at users with the same pinpoint accuracy afforded to other types of advertising. Issue advertisers won’t be able to drill down to narrow geographies – in the case of the U.S., that means they can’t geographically target ads more narrowly than the state level – and they won’t be allowed to target users by political keywords that come up in their data-driven Twitter marketing profiles, such as “liberal” or conservative.”

For-profit organizations running issue ads must not call for particular political outcomes, and such ads must reflect the organizations’ “publicly stated values, principles, and/or beliefs,” Twitter said.

Under the new rules, news publishers will be granted an exemption to run ads on political topics, as long as they don’t advocate for a particular political outcome…

The policy is set to go into effect Nov. 22.

New York Times: What Ads Are Political? Twitter Struggles With a Definition

By Kate Conger

The Alzheimer’s Association, a health care advocacy group, recently spent more than $200,000 on an ad campaign on Twitter. The campaign had a singular purpose: to persuade people to ask Congress for larger investments in medical research for the disease.

Now the nonprofit is worried about whether those messages will still fly…

Some super PACs and political groups said Twitter’s decision disrupted the political advertising strategy and budget they had already mapped out for the 2020 election.

“Changing the rules halfway through is really dangerous,” said Danielle Butterfield, the director of paid media for Priorities USA, one of the largest Democratic super PACs. “A lot of organizations are going to have to look back at their strategy and figure out how to adjust, especially in the middle of the cycle.”…

“The policy would tilt the playing field,” said Eric Pooley, a spokesman for the Environmental Defense Fund, an environmental advocacy group. “Nonprofit organizations need to be able to communicate to the public. That’s what we do.”

The American Federation for Children, a school choice advocacy group, said that Mr. Dorsey’s announcement had created uncertainties and that it was being unfairly swept up in Twitter’s efforts to clean up its platform. Affiliates of Planned Parenthood added that they already struggled to get ads approved on social media and worried about a ban.

“Digital advertisement is a cost-effective way for small nonprofits to reach their audience. The question becomes, where do we turn next?” said Emma Corbett, the communications director of Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts…

“While Twitter’s potential new issues ads policy is more permissive than a total ban, it’s still going to be a challenge for groups who are trying to drive political or legislative change using the platform,” [Nick DeSarno, the director of digital and policy communications at the Public Affairs Council,] said.

FEC

Wall Street Journal: Political Ads Are Flourishing Online. Few Agree How to Regulate Them.

By Emily Glazer and Patience Haggin

White House officials have had discussions in recent weeks about replacing the entire slate of FEC commissioners, according to people familiar with the talks…

FEC commissioners haven’t been able to conduct regular business since August, when a resignation left three commissioners and three vacant positions. Even before the latest impasse, Democratic and Republican members for years were unable to reach consensus over possible disclaimer and disclosure rules that would apply to all digital political ads, current and past commissioners said…

To some commissioners, existing rules, such as those requiring disclaimers, already apply to most digital ads.

FEC Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat, said while she is encouraged that states have jumped in to address the issue, “it would be far better if we could act at the federal level.”

The FEC’s vice chairman, Caroline Hunter, has a different view. “My colleagues’ over-regulatory approach would make it harder for small-dollar campaigns and others to run political ads online,” said Ms. Hunter, a Republican…

The Campaign Legal Center, an advocacy group, filed a complaint petitioning the FEC to extend enforcement of traditional-media laws to digital ads.

The Honest Ads Act, a bipartisan Senate bill supported by the center that pushes for digital ad disclaimers, has yet to have a hearing…

Separately, the House passed a bill in March that would overhaul the FEC, cutting the number of commissioners to five and streamlining the investigation process. But it has yet to be taken up in the Senate…

At least 32 states including California, New Jersey and Maryland have expanded their ad-disclosure laws to include online ads, either by requiring disclaimers or requiring a link to the source, according to the Campaign Legal Center.

The patchwork of restrictions effectively hurts smaller campaigns, which rely on affordable digital ads on platforms such as Facebook rather than pricey broadcast ads, said Annie Levene, a partner at the political-ad-buying firm Rising Tide Interactive. “It doesn’t necessarily prevent bad actors or misinformation.”

Candidates and Campaigns 

Politico: Yang, Gabbard take aim at tech’s legal shield

By Cristiano Lima

Andrew Yang and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) are calling for sweeping changes to the online industry’s liability protections, the latest 2020 presidential candidates to suggest amending the legal shield.

Yang’s campaign on Thursday unveiled a plan to “amend the Communications Decency Act to reflect the reality of the 21st century – that large tech companies are using tools to act as publishers without any of the responsibility.” A provision within that law, Section 230, shields digital services from lawsuits over both user-generated content and their efforts to take down harmful material.

Yang, a former tech entrepreneur, said in a blog post that “given the role of recommendation algorithms – which push negative, polarizing, and false content to maximize engagement – there needs to be some accountability.”

Gabbard, meanwhile, “has been working on legislation to remove the protection from liability that some Big Tech platforms have,” campaign spokesperson Cullen Tiernan told POLITICO. He added that major platforms are “acting as publishers” and so “they should not have special protections if they allow false, defamatory, libelous articles or advertisements.”

The newly revealed plans arrive days after another 2020 contender, former Vice President Joe Biden, said for the first time that “we should be considering taking away” the protections afforded under Section 230, a statute he helped pass into law as a senator in the 1990s that has been widely credited with spurring the growth of the internet economy.

Fellow 2020 candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who recently ended his bid for the White House, both suggested reconsidering the protections earlier this year.

The States

American Prospect: Grassroots Money Beats Amazon in Seattle

By Nick Nyhart and Adam Eichen

On the same night progressives celebrated victories in Kentucky, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere, many held their breath for the results from Seattle. There, Amazon had spent $1.5 million as part of a business-backed $4 million campaign to influence city council races.

Could big money really buy itself a municipal government? And if so, was this a warning shot to local elected officials-fight against corporations at your own peril?

As all the mail-in ballots were finally counted days later, it became clear that Amazon and their allies had lost, handily.

Corporate independent expenditures exceeded progressive ones in every contested council race. Yet, in the six elections in which Amazon and the Seattle Chamber of Commerce went head-to-head with progressives, only one corporate-backed candidate won. (There was one race in which Amazon joined progressives in supporting a progressive candidate against a far-right one.) To add insult to Amazon’s injury, socialist city councilor Kshama Sawant, one of the company’s fiercest critics, won reelection. The top Chamber-backed candidates set local records for the cost paid for each vote received and still lost.

Alex Baiocco

Alex Baiocco