Sunday, August 5, 2007

Blocking Political Blogs in the Michigan Senate

If you have children and internet access, you've probably worried about inappropriate content making its way onto the screen and into their impressionable minds. You may even use filters to keep your kids safe and protect their innocence. This week, while many liberal bloggers were in Chicago at the Yearly Kos Convention, Sen. Mike Bishop's chief of staff decided to protect employees from something called Blogging For Michigan, self described as "a managed progressive community." BFM's core contributors write "the purpose of this community is to provide news and commentary on issues that affect the people of Michigan. BFM believes strongly in the value of the Michigan progressive blogosphere and is committed to supporting high quality citizen journalism."

Several blogs have remarked on the situation. Check Among the Trees, Daily Kos, Michigan Liberal, The Conservative Media. And Senate Minority Leader, Mark Schauer weighed in at BFM.

After shaking off the initial outrage at what looks and smells like censorship, we can welcome this opportunity to consider the impacts, roles, and uses of blogs in the political realm. Blogs are as diverse as the people and groups who create them. Most have a point of view. Many are partisan. A large number make no contribution to civility in discourse and give shelter to the lesser angels of our nature, hidden with cyber identities. Some are even funded and promoted to disseminate disinformation. But, many blogs are the work of people who would otherwise not have access to the "conversation" for lack of wealth, social station, or celebrity. They are not now and never will be members of the club. A blogger needn't even own a computer to have an impact or share an idea, since many public libraries provide internet access.

Should blogs be considered part of the media or journalistic outlets? Some, definitely should. Bloggers keep the mainstream media on their toes by digging a little deeper, asking the next question, and breaking important stories. You cannot generalize about the skills, experience and intelligence of bloggers. You cannot categorically dismiss their research and writing. Some are outstanding writers and thinkers.

Should access to certain blogs be blocked in government offices? This depends on your understanding of the First Amendment. Are you concerned about Freedom of Speech or Freedom of the Press or both? Are the blogs you block political speech written by partisans or members of the press or a bit of both? And, in the absence of consensus around blogs as press, things are likely to get messier. Try this thought experiment: if you were sitting in your Senate office and political pamphlets contrary to your perspective started blowing in through the window would you close the window? If you closed the window and they stuck to it still readable what would you do?

Sen. Bishop's chief of staff said he blocked access to BFM because employees were accessing it too much and not doing their work on behalf of constituents. Couldn't he just have a conversation with the employees in question and advise them to get back to work instead of restricting access from all state Senate computers? And what about the state Senators who do want to read BFM at work?

to be continued...