(Note to Florida Sen. Jason Brodeur: Nothing says, “Trust me on how to make the media work better” like being interviewed by a dude who looks like he’s about to engage in a rap battle with the protagonist from the Offspring’s “Pretty Fly for a White Guy” video. Unless, of course, it’s doing a video interview in your car outside of what looks like the most pathetic water park in Florida.)
I’m happy to report that all of the kids in my media law class this year passed their first exam. I am sad, however, to report that their knowledge of how the First Amendment works would likely disqualify them for a position in the Florida Senate, if Sen. Jason Brodeur is any indication of what passes for intellectual leadership out there:
A Republican state senator in Florida has introduced a bill that, if passed, would require bloggers who write about Gov. Ron DeSantis, his Cabinet or state legislators to register with the state.
Sen. Jason Brodeur’s bill, titled “Information Dissemination,” would also require bloggers to disclose who’s paying them for their posts about certain elected officials and how much.
This is part of a movement among numerous political figures, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who like the power that comes with political positions, but don’t like being held to any level of scrutiny by member of The Fourth Estate.
Among the 823,245,219 bad ideas in this bill, consider these key elements:
- It argues that bloggers are essentially lobbyists, so if lobbyists need to register with the government, so should bloggers. (I spent 30 minutes trying to come up with an equally absurd comparative and basically rolled snake eyes on that one. Just imagine the dumbest comparison you can and then imagine it being made during a drunken screaming match on a “Housewives of Meth-topia” episode and you’re probably close to what I was trying to come up with.)
- It would require the disclosure of payments for any posting the bloggers do, never mind for a moment that a) most bloggers aren’t paid for specific posts, (at best supported ad revenue or donations on the entirety of the blog) and b) this somehow overlooks the entire public relations industry, which would be essentially eviscerated by this kind of thing.
- It seeks to fine people up to $2,500 a day for “late registration” of the blog, as outlined in the bill, which again makes no sense due to the point made above.
Brodeur and fellow backers of the bill couldn’t be more transparent in their self-interest if they were made of Saran Wrap: By creating a climate of fear among people who might be critical of these officials, these public figures can cut down on the amount of criticism they face.
That said, they face significant problems in making this thing stick for a few basic reasons:
- It violates the essential rationale behind the First Amendment and other actions by the country’s founders. Before it declared its independence, the then-colonial state of this country operated under English laws pertaining to printing, including the rule that all presses were to be licensed by the government. The soon-to-be-a-country’s first newspaper, Publick Occurrences, was shut down in 1690 for printing without a license. Colonists realized the suppression of the press was a key way England kept its thumb on its critics, and thus made sure the newly independent country DIDN’T license journalists for precisely this reason.
- It violates common sense in regard to how anything works in a digital world. Let’s pretend for a minute that this thing gets passed in Florida and for some reason, we’re all sitting around for a year, waiting for the Supreme Court to do something about it. So… I have a few questions:
- It only applies to PAID posting in regard to registration and disclosure. Does that mean I can spend as much of my time as I want calling Brodeur and DeSantis and the rest of the bill’s supporters peanut-brained, no-account, speech-suppressing ass-hats? I mean, if I’m just doing it without financial sponsorship, how am I violating the law here?
- It’s a FLORIDA law. I read through Brodeur’s bio and was unable to figure out if this chucklehead actually understands that, unlike most physical things some politicians want to allow (carrying a gun) or prevent (ending a pregnancy), the internet doesn’t recognize state borders. Thus, I can write a blog in Wisconsin, criticizing stupidity in Florida, and people in all 50 states (and apparently Trinidad and Tobago, where I’ve apparently got exactly one really frequent reader), can enjoy the various ways I can poke holes in this bill.
- Digital media covers more ground than this bill, so are you ready for some highly creative fun people will have at Brodeur’s expense? I”m looking forward to some really long Twitter tirades, a “Violate a Fundamental Constitutional Liberty like Jason” TikTok challenge and something on YikYak that would make Bubba the Love Sponge blush…
So, in hopes of inspiring a generation of digital natives who love free speech and have a dark sense of humor, let’s have some fun:
This is a link to Sen. Jason Brodeur’s home page on the Florida State website. You can find a contact button there, which will allow you to tell him EXACTLY what you think of this bill and his rather patronizing “Government Folk Know Best” approach to free speech. If you’re taking a law class, please feel free cite a particular precedent that would allow you to express yourself in a particular way. Speak the truth about a bad official, offer an opinion, participate in hyperbolic speech, present content that does not rise to the level of actual malice or anything else your free-speech-loving heart desires.
(Bonus points to the first person who redoes the Falwell Campari parody with Brodeur in it, or whoever arranges an amazing John Oliver singing extravaganza about Bob Murray that I’m not allowed to link here, but that you should definitely find on your own.)
To prove you understand the actual legal limits of the amendment, please do not engage in any fighting words, true threats or incitement to imminent lawless actions, to name a few.
To those of you who might think this approach is petty and childish, I would argue that the defense of the First Amendment in all of its forms is vital to the preservation of our democracy. Any dissent provided to rebuke those who would undercut our most basic freedoms should be embraced by all those who cherish the values that created the foundation of our country.
I guess I could also argue, “Well, he started it…”
Either way, take your shot and make your voice heard.
If Brodeur has his way, it might be the last chance you get to do any of this.