One of my very unliberal positions is on political speech. I very much believe that controlling money spent on speech, whether that speech is in a commercial ad for a product, or in an ad for a candidate, in that candadate’s own speech, or in a journalist’s article is the same as controlling the speech itself. That controls on campaign spending are, in my view, very similar to the idea of controlling the budget of a newspaper. “Oh,” say the lawyers, “we’re not controlling what they print, just what they spend.” I know that current law is largely against me on this point, with the FEC charged with controlling campaign spending and even watching independent groups that spend money on behalf of candidates.
Thus I am delighted with a new YouTube video that completely bypasses all of this. It’s just a free, independently made ad, and it has spread across the internet. You can read the Washington Post story about it here, and see the video itself here. (I didn’t see a link to the actual video from the Washington Post story.)
Why am I delighted with this video? It’s great content? No, though I do like the challenge to the status quo just a bit. Do I particularly dislike Senator Clinton? No. The point is that this is an ad that has massive circulation and more viewers than the standard ads, and its not under the control of the election watchers.
The great benefit of the internet to the spread of information is that it removes control, and provides a free market in ideas. Candidates are already finding that they cannot stay “on message” as their consultants would have them do, because people are interested in other messages. With free information flow, candidates will have much less control over their image.
Of course all of this comes with dangers. Information on the internet is much less filtered than print and and other media. The barriers to entry into this market of ideas are all but nonexistent. We have to be careful to check our facts and get good, basic information to support what we choose to believe. But were we not responsible to do the same thing before? The difference is that it is now also easier to check that information. I find tremendous value in things like online article and book searches, for example, that let me locate information even when I can’t get it all on the internet. That reduces the time for me to get the right interlibrary loan book in my hand if nothing else. Often I can even check the facts of a news story from several sources online.
Whether they are liberal or conservative, the folks who want to control the information you get are not trying to make you more free, nor to guarantee that you get accurate information. They’re trying to keep you on track. That’s why I have always supported the maximum possible free speech, and it’s also why I welcome the internet and services like YouTube to the political arena. There’s another revolution going on, and I think it’s a good one.
As the Washington Post article quoted David Weinberger, former senior Internet adviser to Howard Dean and a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School:
“It’s expressing frustration and unhappiness with the level of control that her campaign is exerting. It’s no more controlled than any other traditional campaign. It’s not especially controlled by previous standards. But it’s tightly controlled by the standards of the Web. And for a big part of the population, the standards are the Web standards,” Weinberger said.
To regain her footing online, the New York senator “should go off-message and her talking points” and post videos and blogs that show “that she doesn’t have the answer to everything, that she’s made mistakes, that she can talk like another human being.” As such the video, Weinberger added, “is particularly effective because it draws the parallel that’s apparent to so many people — that Hillary is to the campaign as PCs are to computing.”
I’m there. Most of my information on the campaigns will come from the internet. I’m not going to believe attack ads. I’m going to check wth everything from regular media to the candidate’s web sites. But I am delighted with how much is becoming available. The standards of control should be those of the web.