This story about how Senators, Representatives and Congressional offices can use the internet is very important - and a reflection of the outdated and slow-to-evolve regulatory system that Congress has in place. Of course, this dynamic is basically true of pretty much every part of Government.
I dealt with some of these frustrating issues during my time on the Hill. For instance, we wanted to put up a blog. We spent 3-4 months trying to negotiate the tools we could use (basically, none), after which the problem moved to a technology advisory committee. That group would taking a vote on the feasibility of implementing blog platforms into the Senate internet infrastructure. The archaic bureaucracy took the simple matter of creating a blog and regulated the project right out of existence. (Note: the House and Senate have somewhat different rules)
As Soren Dayton described yesterday, the same thing is happening with Congressional office use of web tools to communicate.
Capuano's proposal is a disaster. It creates a list of sites, maintained by the Committee on House Administration that members are allowed to post material. ... ["content should not be posted on a website or page where it may appear with commercial or political information or any other information not in compliance with the House's content guidelines"] ... This would, for example, not allow members to post information to Facebook, which has ads and, dare I say, political content.
This policy is absurd. Why should Congressional offices be prohibited from placing content on Facebook, YouTube or Twitter due to the commercial or political content on those sites, but still be able to push content to the Washington Post, The Politico and CNN....all of which are equally commercial and political?
Republicans should demand the rules committees be consistent here. If they really don't want Members placing content with commercial entities, then let's see how long they want to go without distributing content to commercial media.
I'm not really sure this is a matter of Democrats fearing trying to suppress Republican speech, though it's certainly a good example of what happens when you make government responsible for making these decisions.
Ultimately, there are two problems here:
- Where you can place content – e.g., can you put a video on YouTube (thus being adjacent to advertising)?
- What you can put on your own website – e.g., can you embed a YouTube video (thus, tangentially supporting a commercial entity)?
I can see the value of preventing members from engaging in commercial activity, but it would seem that Problem #1 applies equally to any commercial media outlet, and Problem #2 applies to any branded product the government uses (cars, pens, etc).
The House Republican solution that Soren Dayton described is simple and correct: "Only the posted content must comply with House rules, not the whole external site."