Sen. Rockefeller Continues His Quest To Regulate Free Speech With His 'Violent Content Research Act'

from the because-we-love-our-elected-reps-pursuing-personal-agendas dept

Sen. Jay Rockefeller's pet project -- fighting violent media -- just got a shot in the arm from the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee (because those three seem like perfect complements...), which "advanced" his legislation directing the National Academy of Sciences to study the effects of violent media on children.

Rockefeller's bill -- the "Violent Content Research Act of 2013" -- also drags the Federal Trade Commission, Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Health and Human Services along for the ride, which indicates the end result of this study is going to be some form of regulation, First Amendment or no.

Why the country needs redundancy in studies of violent media is something only Rockefeller knows for sure. The president himself ordered the Centers for Disease Control to study the effects of violent media on children shortly after the Sandy Hook shooting, although the president's request also tasked researchers with looking for a link to gun violence.

Both studies are looking for something that hasn't been conclusively proven to date: violent video games and media make people more violent. Rockefeller has his own ideas, ones which hopefully won't skew the results. For the past half-dozen years, Rockefeller has made a handful of efforts to regulate or otherwise curtail violent media, to this point mainly concentrating on broadcasters. Every attempt to date has been shot down, mainly due to First Amendment concerns.

But the Sandy Hook shooting breathed new life into Rockefeller's media-controlling aspirations. One week after the shooting, he fired off a "concerned" press release that made the following claim:

As parents, research confirms what we already know – these violent images have a negative impact on our children’s wellbeing.
But research doesn't confirm this. Perhaps these two new studies will find a link between violent media and violence, but to date, research hasn't proven there's a link. Hopefully, this research will confirm what seems to be obvious -- that violent video games and media do not alone turn a person violent.

Lobbying groups for broadcasters and a spokesperson for the ESA (Entertainment Software Association) both issued statements welcoming the new research, with the ESA pointing out that the FTC once again has recognized the voluntary ESRB program as the "best in the entertainment sector."

With Rockefeller already having decided that violent media is a problem, it will be interesting to see what his reaction will be if this research comes to the same conclusions many others have. He clearly harbors a desire to clean up the airwaves (and beyond) and there aren't many things more stubborn than a politician with a headful of bad conclusions.

Unfortunately for those on the receiving end of the scrutiny, they're facing more than one such politician. The bill's co-sponsors include Sen. Coburn and Sen. Blumenthal, both of whom might be remembered as being in the select group of 18 senators who voted for the PROTECT IP Act back when it was in its nascent, most damaging form. Clearly, both are in favor of regulating free speech. (Or, at the very least, punishing the internet to protect the movie industry.)

Of these two, Blumenthal is the greater concern. While at his post as the Attorney General of Connecticut, Blumenthal waged a grandstanding war against Craigslist and Backpage for hosting escort ads, as well as attacking Myspace and Facebook for their supposedly "inadequate" tracking of sex offenders. (This despite Myspace handing over a list of 90,000 names to Blumenthal.)

Blumenthal also filed an amicus brief (siding with the state of California in its attempt to regulate video games) with the Supreme Court arguing for the ban of violent video games, despite 10 states having already struck down such attempts as unconstitutional. In his brief, Blumenthal made some vastly ignorant claims about the video game industry's "inaction," suggesting it "follow the lead" set by the MPAA with its rating system, somehow ignoring (or not realizing) the fact that the ESRB has had a ratings system in place for years and a voluntary enforcement system that routinely outperforms movie theatres (and DVD retailers) in preventing minors from purchasing M-rated games.

Like the industries mentioned above, I too support more studies into the effects (or lack thereof) of violent media. My issue isn't with the study, it's with the people calling for it and, more specifically, the timing. Both of these requested studies were announced shortly after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, giving them the reactionary sheen of a witch hunt.

If these groups are allowed to do the research unimpeded by those looking to have their pet theories confirmed, we might finally have some sort of consensus on the relation of violent media to violence. If not, we might find ourselves looking at regulatory action prompted by compromised or badly extrapolated results that "justify" the curtailing of free speech these senators so obviously crave.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    rw (profile), Aug 6th, 2013 @ 7:55am

    Lots of money and no brain...Perfect Politician.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Nobody, Aug 6th, 2013 @ 8:55am

    Because clearly entertainment media and video games have driven the sudden increase in violence that has been largely absent throughout the prior 5000 years or so of recoreded human history.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2013 @ 9:00am

    After lengthy research, discussion, field trips, it has been determined the 5pm news is the greatest threat to children. The unending reports on drone attacks, undeclared wars, torture without trials is detrimental not just to the children but to society at large.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    Mike-2 Alpha (profile), Aug 6th, 2013 @ 9:12am

    Correlation and Causation

    Even if studies showed that violent people partook of violent media, there would still be the question of whether or not the media was a causative factor. In other words, would that mean that violent media made people violent, or would it mean that those people liked it because they were already violent to begin with?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2013 @ 9:12am

    I just conducted a survey of me and 100% of the people surveyed think this guy is a moron.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2013 @ 9:16am

    Or you could have an honest discussion with your kids and explain to them why you don't want them watching violent media.

    Isn't good parenting something that should done by parents, not by government regulations?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    ahow628 (profile), Aug 6th, 2013 @ 9:19am

    The results

    We'll know the results of this study based on whether or not it sees the light of day. If it actually comes out, it will agree with Rockafeller's conclusions. If we never hear about this again, it will be quite obvious that there is simply no connection.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    TheLastCzarnian (profile), Aug 6th, 2013 @ 9:23am


    Lots of taxpayer money and no brain...Perfect Politician.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    TheLastCzarnian (profile), Aug 6th, 2013 @ 9:28am

    GUN violence

    I'm facinated at how guns make crimes more violent. Bashing a hole in someone's skull with a hammer is bad, and stabbing and slashing another person's flesh to dripping ribbons is bad, but pointing a gun at them and pulling the trigger... much more violent.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2013 @ 9:50am

    Re: GUN violence

    I'd say the ease of it is what frightens people. Someone trying to bash your skull in you can theoretically grapple with and win. Someone trying to stab you, you can theoretically grab a mundane object to fend them off with, or run away. With a gun once they've got it pointed at you, there's not much you can do. That increase in danger and inability to defend one's self equates to more violent in people's minds. Basically "more deadly" = "more violent".

    Guns are also more efficient at inflicting harm. More people harmed in the same amount of time as a hammer or knife = more violent in people's minds.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Hardnose, Aug 6th, 2013 @ 10:58am

    Re: Re: GUN violence

    Right on!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2013 @ 11:37am


    Or better yet, how about having an honest discussion with your kids about the difference between fantasy and reality and how just because you see something in the media that does not make it appropriate to act it out in reality. You know?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2013 @ 11:41am

    Re: Re: GUN violence

    "With a gun once they've got it pointed at you, there's not much you can do."

    Yeah, he was pretty helpless right there.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2013 @ 11:47am

    Why redundancy you ask?

    First, they are commissioning studies to FIND a link between the two, no find IF there is a link between the two. There's a big difference between those two things that makes all the difference in the world. The former is biased and the latter is objective. Once you understand that, the reason for the redundancy is simple. It allows them to say "According to STUDIES..." (note the plural sense of the word) before regurgitating the talking points.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2013 @ 11:57am


    I grew up with violent media and my parents explained not real to me when I was about six.
    I had no problem understanding that just like my kids understanding it.

    I might add I'm relaxed all the time, I've not been in one fight in my entire life. I don't believe in physical violence or verbal abuse towards others. I spar at the local gym but that's not the same, we're all friends.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Jasmine Charter, Aug 6th, 2013 @ 12:59pm

    New study...

    How about a study to prove that idiots in office do more harm than good and to make sure idiots are banned from running for public office.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 6th, 2013 @ 1:07pm

    Re: Re: Re: GUN violence

    Naturally my statement assumes that the goal of an attacker is to kill you, or otherwise quickly inflict physical harm on you. If mister shotgun wielder's primary goal had been shooting that guy, mister plucky pedestrian would have been shot.

    When they're already swinging the hammer at your head, you can block or dodge. When they're already swinging or thrusting the knife at you, you can block or dodge. When they're already pulling the trigger, your options and odds are significantly more limited.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    Bergman (profile), Aug 6th, 2013 @ 3:40pm

    Re: Correlation and Causation

    With the right methodology, you can prove that breathing air is related linked to violence and death.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    Bergman (profile), Aug 6th, 2013 @ 3:44pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: GUN violence

    Exactly. If you're waving the gun around as a magic "I Win" wand but don't intend to actually fire it, then someone resisting your spell comes as a surprise.

    Someone who applies the fundamental rule of firearms, that you don't draw or aim unless you intend to fire will get different results.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous, Aug 6th, 2013 @ 4:08pm

    I got yer violent content right here!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Digger, Aug 6th, 2013 @ 9:45pm

    To Mr. Fucktard Rockefeller

    Hey asswipe, you must have watched too many Bugs Bunny cartoons as a kid, you're brain is dead.

    Kids in the past grew up with just as much, if not more violence, and they turned out just fine (of course, their parents were allowed to punish them appropriately for fucking up).

    Kids grew up with things like
    The Civil War
    Indian Attacks
    Locust Swarms
    Press Gangs
    The American Revolution
    French-Indian war
    Spanish Inquisition
    The Catholic Church
    To name just a few of the greatest violence creators of the past.

    Todays entertainment violence does nothing to increase violent behavior.

    Hamstringing a parent's right, neigh, obligation to discipline their children so they can grow up civil minded, right thinking upstanding adults is what's screwing today's children up.

    Go back to the laws of discipline from a century ago.
    Remove the no children left behind bullshit.
    Forget the everyone's a winner crap, it isn't true.

    All of these things create children that believe they are entitled to their every whim, and that's what leads to violent outbursts, children killing children for iPods and Air Jordens, not video games and movies.

    Pull your head out of your ass and get some fresh oxygen to that thing you call a brain and start thinking you moron.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    Hagen (profile), Aug 6th, 2013 @ 11:52pm

    As a matter of fact, violence has never been as low as it is today in the western world. And if you look at the development of violence over the last 40 years, you can see a nice positive correlation between the appearance of video games and violence. Also illustrated here:

    Of course, correlation does not even come close to causation, as my professor at UTEP tended to say: There is a strong correlation between ice cream sales and rape. Why? Because of the heat of summer, a factor which influences both variables. That does not mean ice cream causes rape, though.

    However, as an educated guess, I would argue that generations that have lived through actual wars and had to butcher their own animals (which they raised before that) where also exposed to lots of violence but without many means to handle violence in a socially acceptable manner which doesnt cause harm.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. icon
    PaulT (profile), Aug 7th, 2013 @ 12:25am


    There's a good argument that while crime is actually lower, people perceive it as being higher due to the 24 hour news cycle. Crimes that might not have been shown get coverage, more shocking crimes gets shown for longer, stories that might never have made it past local news are now national or international headlines, etc. So, most people think the world is more dangerous and violent, while in many areas the opposite is true.

    Which is exactly why impartial studies are even more important than ever now. The facts need to be shown, not simply what people *feel* is a problem.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    derp, Aug 8th, 2013 @ 1:32am

    Re: New study...

    Just what we need... more studies to legitimize more laws to fix the old laws that never should have been laws to begin with. Wait, is this carousel? I want off.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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