From elephants to bluebirds.
The US 2014 midterm elections were held on November 4th, the ultimate result of these elections was a marked win for the GOP with net gains of 8 and 12 seats in the Senate and House respectively. Recently however, CNN has alleged that this republican victory was delivered through shady Twitter practices from GOP affiliates.
According to the 2010 ruling in Citizens United vs The Federal Election Committee, Super PACs, NGOs and other outside groups can contribute freely (ie: without limit) to the campaigns of chosen candidates provided that they do not coordinate with said candidates during the process. The methodology behind this ruling stems is that while outsider organisations should be allowed to donate to the campaign process, the amount of money that they can potentially front, combined with candidate collusion, would provide a potentially unfair advantage. The policy helps create a fundamental inefficiency regarding where campaign donations go. Super-PACs and other similar bodies can throw as much money as they want at candidates, but are unlikely to use that money to peak effectiveness because they don’t know where it is needed the most.
CNN claims that the GOP managed to skirt this ruling in the most recent election through the dubious use of Twitter. Tweets from affiliated accounts would read as cryptic strings of letters and numbers that most casual observers would disregard as nonsense. However, according to the report, underneath the outer appearance of gibberish the tweets contained vital state polling data. Donor bodies then supposedly implemented this data in order to tactically disseminate campaign funds.
Though the actions of these accounts appear to violate the terms of Citizens United, they actually fall through a legal loophole. Because the information was posted over twitter, it was technically made public, and under normal circumstances information that is made public cannot be explicitly considered “coordinating,” at least, not in the legal sense. However, just because information is public does not mean it is automatically immune from the “coordination” rule; according to former FEC enforcement head Kenneth Gross, the data must not only be made public, it must demonstrate that there was no pre-arrangement involved in the disclosure of the data.
The Twitter controversy exemplifies how the increasing use of social media has facilitated the widening of legal grey areas. The Citizens United ruling is only 4 years old, and yet the standards it set are already being challenged because people are constantly changing and innovating the way they leverage social media and technology in general.
In 1965 Gordon Moore posited a technological theory now referred to as “Moore’s Law.” It states that every 18 months, the computing power of a system will double. Though this law may not embody a direct link to the techno-political situation at hand, it is nonetheless an apt analogy for the breakneck speed at which technology, in this case social media technology, is changing and changing us. The question now becomes “where does it end?” There is no true way to “future-proof” complex laws and rulings like Citizens United. To this end, what happens when the pace of technology begins to surpass the rule of law? Though it may be unclear today what the future holds for the US legal system, it is no longer a question of whether or not the law will need to change to accommodate technology, but how soon.
Featured image courtesy of Flickr user DonkeyHotey