Negative Speech Is Still

By Larry Seltzer  |  Posted 2006-06-12 Print this article Print

Speech"> Should you fear political spam? It depends on what you think "spam" is. Id say that fair enforcement of CAN-SPAM doesnt have to infringe on free speech. A prohibition on scraping e-mail addresses from Web sites, for example, is not the same as a prohibition on speech. Requiring lists to honor opt-out requests is not the same as saying they cant spend more than $X on campaigning.
Unsurprisingly, a certain amount of cynicism is in order here. Part of the point of this planted story is to market these consultants services. Why would they want to be quoted in a story that essentially creates a scare about their own businesses? To get the message out to potential clients that theyd better get in on it before their opponents overwhelm them with successful Internet marketing.
Im second to nobody when it comes to cynicism and skepticism. If I were in this business, the first thing I would tell my clients is that theres definitely a role for e-mail marketing of their campaigns, but the real payoff will come with negative Internet advertising. People dont like spam. Even novices will become annoyed if they are deluged with political messages, and dozens of "Vote for Bob Forehead" e-mails will do no good for the image of the candidate. But dozens of "Bob Forehead is buying drugs with public money" e-mails will have an effect that Forehead will find difficult to combat. Even if people dont like the e-mails and find them distasteful, even untrustworthy, they wont come away feeling good about Bob. We just finished a primary for Democratic nomination for township committee in my town (this is effectively the real election, since Republicans are politically insignificant here). The most memorable feature of the election was a cheap negative ad widely mailed out. It was badly received in public discourse, but one of the candidates who sent it came within 29 votes of wining. Its impossible to read peoples minds to discern the impact the ad had, but in retrospect I think sending the ad didnt hurt; those candidates lost for other reasons. Click here to read more about spam techniques. And the sort of negative Internet advertising this article implies to me will be more likely to have an effect. Our negative ad was labeled as being from the opposing candidates, but its not necessary to do that. In fact, the candidate need not be directly involved when an independent, concerned group of citizens can send out the messages themselves. All this is fine with me. As I said, political speech is good and more political speech is better. The FEC was right to exempt political speech from regulation and Congress was wrong to regulate it in other media. If you dont like free political speech in your e-mail, then either take steps to filter it or grin and bear it. You live in a free society and it comes with the territory. As Hugo Black once said, when interpreting the First Amendment, "No law means no law." Security Center Editor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983. He can be reached at Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest security news, reviews and analysis. And for insights on security coverage around the Web, take a look at Security Center Editor Larry Seltzers Weblog.

Larry Seltzer has been writing software for and English about computers ever since—,much to his own amazement—,he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1983.

He was one of the authors of NPL and NPL-R, fourth-generation languages for microcomputers by the now-defunct DeskTop Software Corporation. (Larry is sad to find absolutely no hits on any of these +products on Google.) His work at Desktop Software included programming the UCSD p-System, a virtual machine-based operating system with portable binaries that pre-dated Java by more than 10 years.

For several years, he wrote corporate software for Mathematica Policy Research (they're still in business!) and Chase Econometrics (not so lucky) before being forcibly thrown into the consulting market. He bummed around the Philadelphia consulting and contract-programming scenes for a year or two before taking a job at NSTL (National Software Testing Labs) developing product tests and managing contract testing for the computer industry, governments and publication.

In 1991 Larry moved to Massachusetts to become Technical Director of PC Week Labs (now eWeek Labs). He moved within Ziff Davis to New York in 1994 to run testing at Windows Sources. In 1995, he became Technical Director for Internet product testing at PC Magazine and stayed there till 1998.

Since then, he has been writing for numerous other publications, including Fortune Small Business, Windows 2000 Magazine (now Windows and .NET Magazine), ZDNet and Sam Whitmore's Media Survey.

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