AT&T Asks Employees To Hide AT&T Affiliation While Protesting Net Neutrality Laws

from the disclosure? dept

We’ve been having some discussions lately about the FTC’s new guidelines for “disclosure,” and some of our regular critics have been gleefully insisting that the reason I don’t like those rules is because I don’t disclose stuff, and I’m scared the FTC is going to crack down on the site. I find this pretty funny, because I am a huge believer in the importance of disclosing stuff, and on the rare occasion we’ve been in a situation where disclosure was necessary, we have no problem disclosing, even to the point that it’s almost silly. Almost nothing in those rules impacts us directly. My real complaint with the rules is that the FTC rules aren’t needed and raise serious First Amendment issues. First, most blogs and other social media efforts are conversational, not publishing, and a whole different set of social cues matter there. Second, anyone stupid enough not to disclose their affiliations on certain things is going to face pretty serious backlash when it comes out (as it certainly will).

Take, for example, the backlash today on the news that AT&T’s chief lobbyist sent out an email to all AT&T employees urging them to protest any new net neutrality laws and hide their AT&T affiliation as they do so. AT&T has confirmed the email, which has numerous factual errors (and remember, I actually agree that net neutrality laws don’t make sense). But, more importantly, the mainstream media is now calling AT&T out for this outrageous effort to have employees pretend they’re not employees in protesting these rules.

Transparency on conflicts makes a lot of sense. It’s something that people should do because it makes you more trustworthy — not because the FTC threatens to fine you. The problem with the FTC rules is that it creates a weird chilling effect and threat of action on things where the rules aren’t at all clear. As AT&T is learning today, trying to hide that kind of thing just creates a lot of backlash. It makes AT&T appear like it doesn’t have a strong legitimate case, and needs to resort to underhanded techniques to make its argument.

Oh, and to make the FTC and our critics happy: Full Disclosure: I use AT&T DSL at home, and while I pay for it, a few years back there was a long outage, and AT&T agreed to give me a credit of $35 off my next bill. I also know some people who work at AT&T. My wife uses an iPhone, which I assume must run on AT&T’s network, but it’s provided by her employer (oh, crap, do I need to disclose who that is too?), and so we never see the bill — so maybe the FTC thinks it’s provided for free? I once sat on a panel with a representative from AT&T, and while I disagreed with him on most things policy-wise, I thought he was a nice guy, and at times I’ve talked to him about why AT&T should be more involved in online conversations (like this one!). Anything else?

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Comments on “AT&T Asks Employees To Hide AT&T Affiliation While Protesting Net Neutrality Laws”

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21 Comments
Beta says:

Ad hominem...

Transparency on conflicts makes a lot of sense. It’s something that people should do because it makes you more trustworthy.

No it doesn’t, but it may make you more trusted— by some people. Personally I’m not too impressed by disclosure, since I have neither means nor desire to investigate people and find out if they’ve held anything back. If an argument is specious or muddled, I don’t really care whether it’s because the speaker is a shill or just a muttonhead. If someone says “I’m {for|against} {the iPhone|antiterrorism|big oil|the infield fly rule}” with no supporting argument, I’m not impressed. If someone can make a reasoned argument — or a poetic plea — for something, then I’d like to hear it, and I don’t think it matters whether the author was truly sincere or not.

I don’t like the fact that so many of my fellow {Americans|human beings} are so easily swayed by hollow arguments and shill-talk; it endangers my life, liberty and property. But that’s part of the human condition and I don’t think a half-baked rule concocted by dim-witted tech-illiterate civil servants is going to help.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Ad hominem...


I don’t like the fact that so many of my fellow {Americans|human beings} are so easily swayed by hollow arguments and shill-talk; it endangers my life, liberty and property. But that’s part of the human condition and I don’t think a half-baked rule concocted by dim-witted tech-illiterate civil servants is going to help.

That’s a fair point. If an argument doesn’t stand on its own, then what good is it?

Ryan says:

Re: Re: Ad hominem...

But no argument except the most basic one actually stands on its own; nearly all substantial arguments are based upon premises, definitions, research, etc. The degree to which you attribute the validity of a source may greatly affect the degree to which you are willing to expend time investigating their sources and premises and determining the validity of each. If you trust prima facie the competence and genuineness of your material, then you can save time and effort in assuming that many of their assumptions are valid. None of us can spend time exhaustively tracking down the premises of each argument we read. And then what of primary experience, where we are taking the word and/or judgment of another based solely upon their ethos?

Disclosure may be somewhat irrelevant once trust has been thoroughly established(because that requires that you believe a source would not willingly deceive you), but I think disclosure remains invaluable in establishing the forwardness and trustworthiness of someone in the first place. Beta, others do not immediately know that what you say is true or not; by disclosing biases, it helps others determine the likeliness that you are, which is the definition of trustworthiness.

Beta says:

Re: Re: Re: Re^3 Ad hominem...

Ryan, your position seems to be that disclosures would help readers save time by helping them to decide early whether to accept an argument at face value or examine it carefully. I find it hard to imagine a case in which it would make a difference — and I’m not even counting the time spent poring over the disclaimer! You point out that people don’t immediately know whether what I say is true, but would disclaimers really change that? Imagine:
“Honey, let’s switch to Colgate tooth paste.”
“Huh? Why? What’s wrong with our brand?”
“Nothing, but Beta said Colgate is really good.”
“You want to switch toothpaste because of an anonymous opinion you read on the internet?”
“Well, yes, but look, by magic I can tell with certainty that Beta has no financial interest in the Colgate company. No paycheck, no stock, no free toothpaste, nothing. So, see, that makes his opinion, well…”

Don’t like my example? By all means give us a better one.

www.eZee.se (profile) says:

Forgive me, but i dont get it, maybe because i am not American and the whole FCC thing cannot affect me.

On nearly every site, including this one, discussing copyright attracts the shills and the industry low life,scum sucking,b@stards and slimeballs from organizations like the RIAA, IFPI, BPI and MPAA.

They dont say who they work for, but at times you have to have Paris Hilton’s brain not to figure it out, so this really is nothing new if AT&T shill for their companies’ agenda… right?
(like i said, i dont really know if i am missing something in this discussion)

Anonymous Coward says:

Full Disclosure: I am a member of the public, of the people. And if culture is made by the people, for the people, then culture shall not perish from the earth. It will be enriched by all and shared by some. Made and remade for what it’s worth and there ain’t nothing that can be done.

Cat’s been out of the bag since mankind discovered the formula for fire.

Anonymous Coward says:

Straw Man Much?

Oh, and to make the FTC and our critics happy: Full Disclosure: I use AT&T DSL at home, and while I pay for it, a few years back there was a long outage, and AT&T agreed to give me a credit of $35 off my next bill. I also know some people who work at AT&T. My wife uses an iPhone, which I assume must run on AT&T’s network, but it’s provided by her employer (oh, crap, do I need to disclose who that is too?), and so we never see the bill — so maybe the FTC thinks it’s provided for free? I once sat on a panel with a representative from AT&T, and while I disagreed with him on most things policy-wise, I thought he was a nice guy, and at times I’ve talked to him about why AT&T should be more involved in online conversations (like this one!). Anything else?

Uh, yeah. Exactly which part of that “disclosure” would be required by FTC rules?

I’m beginning to wonder if maybe you’ve been covering RIAA and other copyright industry shenanigans for so long that their straw man tactics are beginning to rub off on you.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Straw Man Much?

It’s sarcasm… Sorry if that wasn’t clear. The sarcasm HTML tags may not show on your browser.

You’re right, I missed that.

By the way, you were aware that AT&T’s “chief lobbyist” was just kidding, weren’t you? I’m sure you were. I think he may be trying to get a job writing for The Onion or something like that.

CAS says:

Just one thing

Just for balance, I think it’s important to highlight at least once case where I think enforced disclosure is actually important.

Once upon a time (in fact it still happens to a lesser extent today) stock traders would “pump and dump.” Meaning they would buy stock, spread rumors about the stock, and then sell when others bought into it.

Without making disclosure enforced it makes this type of behavior much easier. I suppose a true libertarian would say it’s up to the individual to ferret out the truth, but in this case, I like the idea of someone with a big stick backing up the little guy.

I’m not even sure if the rules governing what I’m talking about are covered by the SEC or the FTC – I just want to say that sometimes regulation is appropriate.

Ok – one more thing. There’s still the larger issue here of what’s the difference between a blog and a publication. Yes, I know it’s been hashed and rehashed time and time again. Here’s the problem – there’s still no solution and we’re going to keep running into it. Blog vs. Publication. Home Video vs. Broadcast. Baby Pictures vs. Child Pornography. Listening to Music Together vs. Public Performance.

It used to be that those who could reach large audiences fit in a silo far away from the common individual, but that has all changed and we need to address what that means.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Just one thing

Huh?

Listen, man. I don’t know what planet you live on, but I have no interest in AT&T nor do I currently do any business with AT&T.

But what I can tell you is that at one point in time, I worked with a great group of people who wanted to ensure the network worked everyone around them. But things changed. When I pointed out that they needed to upgrade point A,B,and C, to better prepare for iPhone rollout, I was quickly and almost immediately showed the door.

Because I pointed out A,B and C, it eventually led me to personal bankruptcy because I couldn’t get a job in a new town, and other downstream effects.

I have little regard for AT&T especially when it comes network management because they couldn’t or wouldn’t dedicate the resources necessary to fix the problems several years ago.

I’ve been told over and over again that I should work directly for C-levels, and even yesterday, at a Fortune 10 company, I was told I am “3 times smarter than anyone else here”.

Thing is, my analysis often comes to a point in which VPs or C-Levels need to make a decision to dedicate capital expenditures to ensure the network works for both internal and external customers. And well, based on personal first hand experience, iPhone would be better on another network.

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