Mashable posted a story late in the day on Wednesday about Facebook spending $6,600 lobbying against a social networking bill in California. The California bill, which can be found here, was set to make it illegal for any social networking site user from the state of California to post their personal home address or telephone number if the user is under the age of 18.
Specifically the bill says,
60. (a) A social networking Internet Web site shall not display, to the public or other registered users, the home address or telephone number of a registered user who identifies himself or herself as being under 18 years of age.
If an Internet site “willfully and knowingly” allows this information to be posted then the site will be fined up to $10,000. The bill puts it this way,
65. A social networking Internet Web site that willfully and knowingly violates any provision of this part shall be liable for a civil penalty, not to exceed ten thousand dollars ($10,000) for each violation of this part.
There are a couple of things to catch here. Who defines what is “willfully and knowingly”? If a site is not 24/7 monitoring their user base, would that comply with “willfully and knowingly” if a violation was found? The civil penalty is for “each” violation. Meaning that if the telephone and address were listed then California could get up to $20,000 not just up to $10,000 for a total violation.
Here’s the rub though. The story broke on MarketWatch, and Mashable picked it up with a tinge of “those darned lobbyists”. The idea is solid. Obviously individuals want to protect their teenage or young children online. But the execution of this bill is horrendous. This is the Internet. People lie all the time. Remember the really hot mid-20′s chick in the Bruce Willis film Surrogates that was killed in the alley at the beginning of the movie, and when the police checked her house she was actually a giant old fat guy? Yeah that.
There is no solution for monitoring your user base at all seconds of the day, and there is no Internet lie detector test for age, or to see if the posted information is actually that persons information for that matter.
Additionally there is nothing wrong with Facebook looking out for its interests. If a bill like this were to pass in California Facebook could potentially lose tons of money for a variety of reasons. They could be fined for something they didn’t or don’t have the ability to catch. They could be fined for people lying. And they could be forced to enter into countless lawsuits to try to defend themselves. All avenues lead to Facebook losing money.
Lobbying gets a bad wrap because it’s often abused. But businesses, organizations, groups, and individuals have to look out for their interests and communicate to government when they need something or don’t need something. Lobbying is simply the name of the process in which those businesses, organizations, groups, and individuals have someone represent their interests at the state and federal level. It doesn’t always mean shady back room deals. That’s just silly.
Furthermore, if all someone is interested in is the potential negative spin, then one can’t just paint this as Facebook trying to kill a bill. California is in huge financial trouble. One has to also consider if the state government thought this bill could slip through late in the session and be an easy way to knock off some debt. Lobbying often gets the negative wrap, but you can’t put it past the other side having cards up their sleeves either.
[Cross-posted at Digital Society]