Throw Out the Bathwater


The mural at the top of the dome is called the "Apotheosis of Washington".

My favorite place in Washington: the view looking up inside the Capitol Rotunda.

“Why pay for a golf trip, dinner or full-page ad when you can tweet for free?” asks Cecilia Kang in a front page story of this morning’s Washington Post.

“The influence peddlers of K Street have discovered the power of social networking on such Web sites as Twitter and Facebook,”  Kang writes. “Using their own names without mentioning that they work in public relations or as lobbyists, employees of companies with interests in Washington are chattering online to shape opinions in hard-to-detect ways.”

In the story, Kang points out how some PR people and lobbyists are less than transparent in their use of Twitter, Facebook and other social  to advocate for their clients. Though Sprint was mentioned in the story, she doesn’t cite us an example of companies who are working “undercover” or as an “influence peddler”.

That’s because our team fully discloses our affiliations online. For example, I use Sprint’s logo on my Twitter background and I identify myself as spokesman for Sprint on public policy issues. On my tech blog and my You Tube channel, I have an even lengthier bio. Disclosing that is not only in Sprint’s interest, but it’s in my personal and professional interest.

My fear is that more conservative, risk-averse companies will read Kang’s story and decide social media shouldn’t be used at all. I hope not —  I believe the more open and more spirited the debate is, the more likely it is we’ll end up with a reasoned public policy decision.

In my view, Kang appropriately questions the lack of similar disclosures by others. More companies and trade associations should require their employees to disclose their affiliations online. Sprint does.

Photo credit: Flickr: o palsson

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2 responses to “Throw Out the Bathwater

  1. In the story, Kang points out how some PR people and lobbyists are less than transparent in their use of Twitter, Facebook and other social to advocate for their clients.

    John –

    It is important to note two things about Kang’s piece, but first, let me fully disclose that I am an unpaid director for Digital Society (along with Jon) and the co-creator of NCTA’s blog – which Paul Rodriguez now runs solo. Jon and I are also partners in the same political consulting firm – CRAFT | Media/Digital.

    To the substance: First, both Jon and Paul do disclose. Kang’s article went so far as to note that Paul uses roughly 10% of his 140 character twitter bio to note that he is a “Cable blogger”. Granted, he could have said “NCTA blogger”, but who outside DC would know what the latter means as opposed to the former.

    The about pages for both Digital Society and Arts & Labs – the two organizations Jon works with – both fully disclose their funding.

    Second, I know for a fact that Cecilia’s comment that Jon refused comment is an outright lie. Her story started as retaliation for a post I wrote on Digital Society. Jon and I both replied to dozens of emails from her regarding her inquiries into our finances, our firms, Digital Society, Arts & Labs, and any connection to telco and cable companies that we may have. For her to suggest that Jon was unresponsive is simply not true.

    • Michael — thanks for the visit and the added perspective. The more I think about it, the more important issue is intent. If there’s an intent to obscure affiliations, that’s more of a problem than not knowing that disclosure is important in online advocacy. I’m not sure anyone can speak to intent — I surely can’t and I’d like to assume that when people don’t fully disclose affiliations, it’s only because they don’t think that’s important.

      As for your last paragraph, I can’t speak Cecilia’s motivations or her exchanges with you and Jon on this story. In my experience over the years, she’s been fair to me and Sprint. While she doesn’t always write things we agree with, she’s always willing to hear me out if I have a question about her stories after they run. I believe her coverage is fair. I can’t always say that about other reporters who cover this space.

      I think the key takeaway from Cecilia’s story was that when lobbyists and PR people disclose their affiliations, readers can better evaluate their advocacy. That said, I’m wondering if the public doesn’t have more insight into the workings of Washington because of social media. I’d like to think so.

      John

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