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?