Media

I Told You This Was Coming': Online Political Speech Could Face New Regulations Next Year

“A reexamination of the commission’s approach to the internet and other emerging technologies is long over due...”

Ann Ravel. (Image via Twitter)

If political material gets posted online but no one pays to post it, does it get regulated?

It's literally "free speech" and right now, the answer is basically no, it's not regulated — but in a surprise move late Friday, regulators said they were honing in on the YouTube videos, tweets and blog posts that have been playing an ever-larger role in political campaigns.

Conservatives, bloggers and even parody makers could all be targets.

Ann M. Ravel, a Democrat and the vice chair of the Federal Election Commission, announced Friday evening that the FEC would begin moving to regulate internet-based campaigns and videos, items which are currently free from most federal regulation, the Washington Examiner reported.

“A reexamination of the commission’s approach to the internet and other emerging technologies is long over due,” Ravel said.

Ann Ravel. (Image via Twitter) Ann Ravel. (Image via Twitter)

Ravel's statement came after the FEC board was split 3-3 over whether two anti-Obama YouTube videos violated FEC rules because the videos, placed on YouTube for free, did not come with any disclosure and the campaign that produced them did not report financial information, the Examiner noted.

Since 2006, the FEC has left political videos and websites largely unregulated — except in cases where, for instance, a campaign paid money to place a video on a website — but now a huge swath of the internet could become subject to new regulations.

“I told you this was coming,” FEC Chairman Lee E. Goodman, a Republican, told the Examiner, citing his earlier warning that federal regulation of conservative online political activities — including parody videos and political blogs — was likely on the way.

The aggregator site Drudge Report, one of the first and foremost conservative presences on the internet, gave the news of the FEC move top billing Saturday morning as the Examiner noted that right-wing websites will likely be targeted under the new regulations.

Image source: screengrab via Drudge Report Image source: screengrab via Drudge Report

The Republicans on the FEC board spoke out against Ravel's move in a statement.

“This freedom has gained wide acceptance, as evidenced by the hundreds of thousands of political videos, websites, blogs and other social media posted on the Internet without so much as an inquiry by the Commission,” the members wrote. “Regrettably, the 3-to-3 vote in [the anti-Obama YouTube videos] matter suggests a desire to retreat from these important protections for online political speech — a shift in course that could threaten the continued development of the Internet's virtual free marketplace of political ideas and democratic debate.”

Ravel said she will hold meetings next year to discuss greater internet regulation.

Follow Zach Noble (@thezachnoble) on Twitter

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