Web Use Update

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(For everyone looking for an update or an explanation about Congress examining its web use restrictions, I just sent the following email to the Open House Project google group, explaining why the issue is important, and what I think that community has to offer.  If you’d like to be involved or follow that discussion, you can sign up for the group.  -John)

The issue has raised a larger question than the one originally intended to be addressed in the house — video.

The Senate is in the midst of reconsidering their recommendations too (see congress daily today, sub only).

The question now before the Franking Commission is how to update what Pelosi and Capuano have both admitted are “antiquated” restrictions.  They have to balance legitimate concerns — decorum, commercialization, and improper taxpayer funded political content — against what all involved parties have recognized as immense potential online.

Clearly, the current rules are unclear, unevenly enforced, and poorly understood.  That this “hooptedoodle” (great word!) is even possible is evidence of that point, which I don’t think is in question by anyone.  The need for an update, revision, loosening, recodification, or whatever, is well accepted on the hill.

Dismissing the argument as being about a trendy web service misses the more interesting thing that’s going on here:  We’re seeing the leadership from both parties in the House affirm the role of technology and public engagement in representative democracy, in an explicit, practical way.  Of course it’s adversarial, that’s what party leaders do.

There are a ton of other reforms I’d like to see addressed, and I’m hoping that we’ll soon have a slew of other accomplishments and issues to focus on, public congressional video (go Carl!) among them. The useful thing we can do, though, is to recognize that the people on this list are probably the best equipped people to help define what acceptable web use looks like.  It isn’t an easy problem.

I’m trying to focus on what’s clearly the case.  The rules need to be updated, confident engagement online with clear standards is the goal, and right now the chilling effect of a combination of restrictive and unclearly enforced rules is keeping Congress from doing as much as it should online.  (I talk a lot more about this in my interview with Dave Witzel here, especially starting at “what’s the steak without the sizzle?)

So, I’m hoping we can start to talk more about the details of member web use restrictions.  What really constitutes commercial endorsement?  When does conduct become unacceptable or undignified?  What role should Congress play in enforcing those questions online?  Where do the edges of “official duties” lie anyway?  Are we treating the Internet differently than we do traditional media?  (See Boehner’s recent post for an expansion on this theme.) Probably more importantly, what are the principles we can use to approach those questions with clear minds?

I’d like to expand on the question of how we can reasonably approach those questions, but I think this email was necessary to clear the air first, and explain what I think the discussion should be about, and what I think this list has to offer the dialog.

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