Smear: Cass Sunstein Will Allow The Government To Regulate Your Email And Internet Use
Glenn Beck and other conservative outlets have reported that Cass Sunstein will create a government board to monitor internet content and to ensure all emails sent are civil.
Sunstein wants to establish a government panel to regulate the content of the internet and personal emails.
"On free speech Cass Sunstein says, quote, many discussion groups and websites less and often more extreme that can be found on the Internet. Discussion groups and websites of this kind have been around for a number of years. On the National Rifle Association's "Bullet N Board," a place where discussions of matters of mutual interest, someone calling himself Warmaster explained how to make bombs out of ordinary household will materials. Warmaster explained these simple, powerful bombs are not very well known even though all the materials can be easily obtained by anyone including minors. That is why he would like to control the Internet. A legislative effort to regulate broadcasting in the interest of Democratic principles. Wow, that's the words that Chavez always used." [GlennBeck.com, 9/9/09]
We also looked at some claims in a chain e-mail that originates from an article on the conservative news Web site World Net Daily. The article begins: "WASHINGTON - Barack Obama's nominee for 'regulatory czar' has advocated a 'Fairness Doctrine' for the Internet that would require opposing opinions be linked and also has suggested angry e-mails should be prevented from being sent by technology that would require a 24-hour cooling off period."
The article is based largely on a new book, Shut Up, America! The End of Free Speech, by Brad O'Leary. The article quotes O'Leary as saying, "It's hard to imagine President Obama nominating a more dangerous candidate for regulatory czar than Cass Sunstein. Not only is Sunstein an animal-rights radical, but he also seems to have a serious problem with our First Amendment rights. Sunstein has advocated everything from regulating the content of personal e-mail communications, to forcing nonprofit groups to publish information on their Web sites that is counter to their beliefs and mission. Of course, none of this should be surprising from a man who has said that 'limitless individual choices, with respect to communications, is not necessarily in the interest of citizenship and self-government.' If it were up to Obama and Sunstein, everything we read online - right down to our personal e-mail communications - would have to be inspected and approved by the federal government."
We checked Sunstein's 2002 book, Republic.com . In it, he discusses the drawbacks of limitless choices on the Internet that allow people to seek out only like-minded people and opinions that merely fortify their own views, creating an echo chamber that Sunstein argues is bad for democracy. In the book, Sunstein talks about the idea of the government requiring sites to link to opposing views.
In a later edition of the book released in 2007, Republic.com 2.0 , Sunstein tempers that position, advocating instead for the creation of public spaces on the Internet where people with differing viewpoints could share their ideas with one another. In a 2008 interview on bloggingheads.TV, Sunstein said he only tentatively offered the idea of government mandates that would require people to link to opposing views, but that he came to realize it was a "bad idea" he should never have proposed.
While the World Net Daily story notes that Sunstein "rethought" the proposal as "too difficult to regulate" and "almost certainly unconstitutional," that caveat is made later in the article and is overshadowed by the headline that says "U.S. regulatory czar nominee wants Net 'Fairness Doctrine.'" The headline suggests Sunstein still advocates that position, and he clearly does not anymore. So we ruled that one Half True as well.
As for the 24-hour cooling off period on e-mails, that comes from a book Sunstein co-authored with Richard Thaler called Nudge.
By our reading, it's not clear whether this is a serious proposal or one meant to be provocative and tongue-in-cheek. An assistant in Sunstein's office said he's not giving interviews pending the confirmation hearings, so we can't say for sure, but here's what they wrote:
"The modern world suffers from insufficient civility. Every hour of every day, people send angry e-mails they soon regret, cursing people they barely know (or even worse, their friends and loved ones). A few of us have learned a simple rule: don't send an angry e-mail in the heat of the moment. File it, and wait a day before you send it. (In fact, the next day you may have calmed down so much that you forget even to look at it. So much the better.) But many people either haven't learned the rule or don't always follow it. Technology could easily help. In fact, we have no doubt that technologically savvy types could design a helpful program by next month.
"We propose a Civility Check that can accurately tell whether the e-mail you're about to send is angry and caution you, 'WARNING: THIS APPEARS TO BE AN UNCIVIL EMAIL. DO YOU REALLY ANF TRULY WANT TO SEND IT? (Software already exists to detect foul language. What we are proposing is more subtle, because it is easy to send a really awful email message that does not contain any four-letter words.) A stronger version, which people could choose or which might be the default, would say, 'WARNING: THIS APPEARS TO BE AN UNCIVIL EMAIL. THIS WILL NOT BE SENT UNLESS YOU ASK TO RESEND IN TWENTY-FOUR HOURS. With the stronger version, you might be able to bypass the delay with some work (by inputting, say, your Social Security number and your grandfather's birth date, or maybe by solving some irritating math problem!)." *
* "While we are waiting for this program to be invented, we have adopted a self-control device of our own as a substitute. When one of us gets really angry, he drafts the angry email, and sends it to the other to edit. Of course, this won't work if we get angry with each other, so we are hoping the program gets invented soon."
The proposal sounds tongue-in-cheek to us, but it's too squishy to put on the Truth-O-Meter. We'll let you decide whether it was entirely serious. As we said, Sunstein has committed a lot of words to print, and these all become fair game in a confirmation hearing.