No YouTube for Congress

by on July 9, 2008 · 14 comments

How does the old saying go? One person’s spam is another person’s blogging fodder? Such was the case today when a colleague forwarded a house GOP “Internet Freedom Alert” to me. According to the alert, Nancy Pelosi and her wicked ilk mean to ban members of Congress from using YouTube to communicate with their constituencies.

The alert, sent by the office of Rep. John Boehner, informs us that house democrats have dredged up an arcane rule and mean to enforce it—after all, this is “the most ethical Congress ever.” The rule, enforced by the Congressional Franking Commission, disallows links to campaign-related website, political parties, advocacy groups and “any site the primary purpose of which is the conduct of commerce.” This means YouTube, replete with its ring tone ads, links John McCain t-shirts, and ads for Barack Obama commemorative neck ties, is a big Congressional no-no.

Congress ought to live by its own rules, but perhaps this one is worth revisiting. Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) seems to think so as well. He sits on the panel that is reforming the rules governing constituent communication and has quite accurately observed that “Technology moves fast. Congress moves slow.”

While that sentence may not be the most grammatically accurate way of stating the case, the Price is right. The alternative for Congress is hosting its own videos or requesting that commecial sites like YouTube build what Washington Post staff writer Jonathan Weisman calls a “government ghetto.”

The former option—Congress building its own video server—would likely be a disaster. I don’t base this on my inclination to believe that government will fail where commercial enterprise has succeeded, but on my own experience working with House web services. When I was a staffer working for former Congressman Mark Green (R-WI), I witnessed the House’s crack web team first-hand. The old telephone monopolies and current high-level bureaucrats would marvel at the inefficiency and general incompetence of these galactic-level government job leeches. Relying on these folks to get messages from Congressional offices out to the American public would be a huge mistake.

The later option—asking for special non-commercial sections for government videos on otherwise commercial sites—seems to also have its disadvantages. The rule that prohibits linking to commercial sites is presumably in place so that Congressional offices aren’t tempted to give links to commercial sites in exchanges for special favors. But if sites like YouTube build these “government ghettos,” they will be gaining favor within the halls of Congress simply for the fact that they will be one of the few providers of “non-commercial” service to Congress.

The non-commercial rule would also prohibit Congress from using sites like SlideShare or ODEO—not to mention the yet uninvented services that will be rolled-out in the years to come. Increasingly, the web is not a series of discreet pages, but pages within pages, making it hard to discern where content from one publisher ends and content from another publisher begins. Congressional rules need to reflect this reality and accept that if our government wants to be ethical, accountable, and transparent, that it may have to accept little YouTube logos appearing here and there in Congressional websites.

Besides, if we’re to take the rule for how it’s written, YouTube is exempt. To say that YouTube’s “primary purpose” is the “conduct of commerce” is a bit of a stretch. The site still hasn’t turned a profit—in fact, Eric Schmidt has admitted that Google just doesn’t know how to do such a thing. Right now, YouTube’s primary function seems to be hosting goofy videos while losing millions in the process.

This decidely “non-profit” status should make YouTube a bit more palitable for Congress, another large organization good at losing money. At least with YouTube available to Congressional website we can see goofy videos of exactly how its all frittered away.

  • Tim Lee

    The rule that prohibits linking to commercial sites is presumably in place so that Congressional offices aren’t tempted to give links to commercial sites in exchanges for special favors.

    This makes no sense at all. Members already have one of the most potent “special favors” around—their votes—on offer. Compared to that, the value of having your Congresscritter link to you is trivial.

  • Kim

    I really couldn’t see Nancy Pelosi enforcing this since her own Youtube channel is filled with Congressional hearings. http://www.youtube.com/user/NancyPelosi

    This just seems like a lot of political gesturing for something to which most people in Congress are not opposed.

  • http://www.tc.umn.edu/~leex1008 Tim Lee

    The rule that prohibits linking to commercial sites is presumably in place so that Congressional offices aren’t tempted to give links to commercial sites in exchanges for special favors.

    This makes no sense at all. Members already have one of the most potent “special favors” around—their votes—on offer. Compared to that, the value of having your Congresscritter link to you is trivial.

  • Kim

    I really couldn’t see Nancy Pelosi enforcing this since her own Youtube channel is filled with Congressional hearings. http://www.youtube.com/user/NancyPelosi

    This just seems like a lot of political gesturing for something to which most people in Congress are not opposed.

  • http://www.cordblomquist.com Cord Blomquist

    I agree Tim, compared to voting for trillions in appropriations and a regulatory state now totaling well over a trillion in costs, how does a link matter at all?

    One would think that linking to commercial sites would simply be unavoidable. YouTube has ads, but so does the Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post–news sites that Congressman may want to site in order to communicate a policy point to constituents. We should be encouraging Congress to be aware of what the media is saying, not banning any reference to the media because it’s commercial.

    This seems like another rule intended to at least give the appearance of ethics or restraint while ignoring the larger problem. Congress simply has too much power and can dole out countless favors because of it.

  • http://www.cordblomquist.com cordblomquist

    I agree Tim, compared to voting for trillions in appropriations and a regulatory state now totaling well over a trillion in costs, how does a link matter at all?

    One would think that linking to commercial sites would simply be unavoidable. YouTube has ads, but so does the Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post–news sites that Congressman may want to site in order to communicate a policy point to constituents. We should be encouraging Congress to be aware of what the media is saying, not banning any reference to the media because it’s commercial.

    This seems like another rule intended to at least give the appearance of ethics or restraint while ignoring the larger problem. Congress simply has too much power and can dole out countless favors because of it.

  • http://www.sunlightfoundation.com Nisha Thompson

    Thanks for this post. The Sunlight Foundation has decided to respond to this controversy by creating the Let Congress Tweet campaign (http://letourcongresstweet.org/):Congressional rules should not prevent lawmakers from joining us in online conversations.” If you have twitter tweet: “Congress, change the rules. Talk to us on our social networks. http://LetOurCongressTweet.org Let our Congress Tweet! #LOCT08″ and join our petition.

    Thanks
    Nisha Thompson
    Online Organizer and Outreach Coordinator
    Sunlight Foundation
    http://www.sunlightfoundation.com

  • http://www.sunlightfoundation.com Nisha Thompson

    Thanks for this post. The Sunlight Foundation has decided to respond to this controversy by creating the Let Congress Tweet campaign (http://letourcongresstweet.org/):Congressional rules should not prevent lawmakers from joining us in online conversations.” If you have twitter tweet: “Congress, change the rules. Talk to us on our social networks. http://LetOurCongressTweet.org Let our Congress Tweet! #LOCT08″ and join our petition.

    Thanks
    Nisha Thompson
    Online Organizer and Outreach Coordinator
    Sunlight Foundation
    http://www.sunlightfoundation.com

  • andrewwang

    Speaking of the U.S. Congress:

    The U.S. Congress does not like George W. Bush—Bush committed too many crimes.

    George W. Bush committed hate crimes of epic proportions and with the stench of terrorism (indicated in my blog).

    George W. Bush did in fact commit innumerable hate crimes.

    And I do solemnly swear by Almighty God that George W. Bush committed other hate crimes of epic proportions and with the stench of terrorism which I am not at liberty to mention.

    Many people know what Bush did.

    And many people will know what Bush did—even to the end of the world.

    Bush was absolute evil.

    Bush is now like a fugitive from justice.

    Bush is a psychological prisoner.

    Bush has a lot to worry about.

    Bush can technically be prosecuted for hate crimes at any time.

    In any case, Bush will go down in history in infamy.

    Submitted by Andrew Yu-Jen Wang
    B.S., Summa Cum Laude, 1996
    Messiah College, Grantham, PA
    Lower Merion High School, Ardmore, PA, 1993

    “GEORGE W. BUSH IS THE WORST PRESIDENT IN U.S. HISTORY” BLOG OF ANDREW YU-JEN WANG
    _________________
    I am not sure where I had read it before, but anyway, it goes kind of like this: “If only it were possible to ban invention that bottled up memories so they never got stale and faded.” Oh wait—off the top of my head—I think the quotation came from my Lower Merion High School yearbook.

  • andrewwang

    Speaking of the U.S. Congress:

    The U.S. Congress does not like George W. Bush—Bush committed too many crimes.

    George W. Bush committed hate crimes of epic proportions and with the stench of terrorism (indicated in my blog).

    George W. Bush did in fact commit innumerable hate crimes.

    And I do solemnly swear by Almighty God that George W. Bush committed other hate crimes of epic proportions and with the stench of terrorism which I am not at liberty to mention.

    Many people know what Bush did.

    And many people will know what Bush did—even to the end of the world.

    Bush was absolute evil.

    Bush is now like a fugitive from justice.

    Bush is a psychological prisoner.

    Bush has a lot to worry about.

    Bush can technically be prosecuted for hate crimes at any time.

    In any case, Bush will go down in history in infamy.

    Submitted by Andrew Yu-Jen Wang
    B.S., Summa Cum Laude, 1996
    Messiah College, Grantham, PA
    Lower Merion High School, Ardmore, PA, 1993

    (I can type 90 words per minute. In only 7 days, posts basically like this post of mine have come into existence—all over the Internet (hundreds of copies). One can go to google.com right now, type “George W. Bush committed hate crimes of epic proportions and with the stench of terrorism,” hit “Enter,” and find more than 300 copies indicating the content of this post. One cannot be too dedicated when it comes to anti-Bush activities. As I looked back at my good computer work, I thought how fun and easy it was to do it.)

    “GEORGE W. BUSH IS THE WORST PRESIDENT IN U.S. HISTORY” BLOG OF ANDREW YU-JEN WANG
    _________________
    I am not sure where I had read it before, but anyway, it goes kind of like this: “If only it were possible to ban invention that bottled up memories so they never got stale and faded.” Oh wait—off the top of my head—I think it came from my Lower Merion High School yearbook.

  • Pingback: 1300 numbers australia

  • Pingback: premier league

  • Pingback: Go to my blog

  • Pingback: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xetGzsKSsu8

Previous post:

Next post: