Fifty years after MLK’s death, the civil rights movement has become a revenue stream for event planners

I don’t know if it is still done, but I remember watching some movie filmed in black and white where in one scene there was an attractive white girl walking around with a box strapped in front of her containing cigarette cartons. She would use her voice, smile, and good looks to charm the men in the room into buying a cancer stick or two. From a consumer perspective this type of traction creation for marketing and selling product is standard operation.  I see it when good looking women are pictured on magazine covers laying on the top of race cars. I see it at conferences when the best looking bartenders are placed behind the cash bar. I see it when a pretty face women is placed at the receptionist desk of an office or at the registration table of an event.

An event planner realizes that her staff responsible for connecting with clients must be able to create a level of trust and comfort such that the client pays attention to what the event’s sponsors are selling. The sponsors want event planners to weave the sponsors’ products into an event’s theme creating exposure of the product’s benefits to the prospective consumer. The greater the exposure to the product, the greater the likelihood of a sale in the short or immediate term.

In politics, political messages are the products pushed through partisan politics channels. Those messages ask tax payers to vote for a particular candidate or support some policy. Today’s post Martin Luther King civil rights movement has become an event planning channel for partisan messages from the left. Some of the “event planners” are familiar to some of you: the NAACP, the National Urban League, the National Action Network, the National Rainbow Coalition. Others have emerged over the past decade such as Color of Change and Black Lives Matter. Their business model is simple. Led by a bunch of college educated black elites, they invite people from the black masses to participate in forums, panel discussions, parades, etc., where they can discuss issues impacting the “black community.” During these forums they intertwine the messages of the progressive left and then close with calls to action, including during an election season, a call for blacks to vote for liberals.

During Dr King’s time, civil rights leaders exchanged information and inspiration in their church meetings. Other than planting a bug in a church (I wouldn’t be surprised if the FBI did this often), you couldn’t “hack” these meetings unless you convinced civil rights leaders that it was important for you, especially as a non-white, to attend. Contrary to the images you saw on “Mississippi Burning”, of helpless blacks dependent on the white man to get him through, black Americans were very resourceful in addressing and pressing their grievances on their own.

Today they have been convinced that a “go it alone” approach is not feasible. By relying less on their own resources, blacks have opened themselves up the carpet bagging of liberals who have sold them on a new corporate model where the black civil rights movement is underwritten by the Democratic Party and other progressive groups. There is a price to pay for the underwriting. The price is a dilution of message.

Now civil rights has extended to groups that quite frankly don’t need civil rights attention or protection: white women, other ethnic groups, and the LGBTQ communities. Black Americans have been pushed so far down to the bottom of the civil rights ladder that they are a fossilized movement, compressed by the weight of all the other communities that have managed to get ahead of them that today, just like the fossils of dead dinosaurs and mammals, they are fueling the civil and human rights campaigns of everyone else.

Martin Luther King’s death removed any last viability of a movement that was moving its focus toward economic empowerment. The movement opted to go the route of political empowerment, falling for its glamour and surface glitz. That power has traditionally been urban based, but as whites return to core cities and old black neighborhoods gentrify, that power is quickly eroding. Fifty years after his death, all the black civil rights movement may have going for it is putting another event on a calendar.

Will Congress regulate.@facebook like a public utility? Given its potential benefit to partisan politics, probably not. #socialmedia

The Wall Street Journal’s Holman Jenkins, Jr. posted an article last Friday about Facebook’s apparent maturity as a business given its focus on regulatory issues such as the potential of Congress to regulate the social media company like a public utility. Mr Jenkins points out that Facebook’s fear of regulation, a fear shared by other “tech” companies, comes from the attention that large companies draw to themselves as the result of centralization of power. In this case, Facebook is perceived as one of the few central nodes of power in the digital space (along with fellow FANGs; Amazon, Netflix, and Google). Issue is, does Facebook have a monopoly status that justifies “public utility” regulation. My answer is no.

The classic argument for regulating a firm as a public utility is that the public has an interest in benefiting from the use of the public’s rights-of-way including the efficiencies that flow from making such uses exclusive to one firm in a given territory. Electric and water utilities quickly come to mind when we discuss public utilities and rights-of-way. Would you rather see your streets and driveways dug up to provide multiple pipes from multiple water or electricity suppliers or would you rather one supplier who is forced to comply with a pricing model that creates a competitive price and rate of return on the assets used by the utility to produce a good? For the most part, society has settled for the latter. We don’t like the idea of having an excess number of utility lines running overhead or into our residences for aesthetic or safety reasons.

Does Facebook fall into this public utility model? No, it does not. According to Facebook, the company makes almost all of its revenue from the sale of advertisement. Facebook uses its algorithms to identify potential viewers of content or purchasers of services for its advertisers and display ads these ads to content viewers and services purchasers in exchange for an advertising fee. Ad services, including the delivery of advertisements to consumers, by Facebook’s admission is a competitive business. Unlike electricity transmission and distribution, ad delivery is not a monopolized industry. As Mr Jenkins points out in his piece, ads are ads, digital or otherwise, and Facebook is no where near dominating a $540 billion advertising industry.

Even if Facebook had a monopoly on the delivery of advertisements or advertisement services, would a regulator risk creating a state action by regulating Facebook’s advertising services? Bearing in mind that the latest buzz around Facebook ads was spawned by the delivery of advertisement messaging produced by Russian nationals allegedly designed to disrupt and defraud the American electorate, would Congress require that Facebook vet the firm generating advertisement content? Would Congress risk the overturn of legislation requiring Facebook vet advertisers if found violating the First Amendment?

I think that even advertisers confident that their messaging does not violate the public interest would think twice about placing advertisements on Facebook’s platform. More important, from the perspective of the regulator, an administrative agency would not to create the risk of creating First Amendment violations and having to defend those violations in court. As the U.S. Supreme Court held in Edenfield v. Fane:

“The commercial market place, like other spheres of our social and cultural life, provides a forum where ideas and information flourish. Some of the ideas and information are vital, some of slight worth. But the general rule is that the speaker and the audience, not the government, assess the value of the information presented. Thus, even a communication that does no more than propose a commercial transaction is entitled to the coverage of the First Amendment.” 113 S.Ct. 1792, 1798 (1993)

Finally, political parties may not want to impede the returns to electioneering that social media has been providing for the past decade. According to the Brookings Institution, since the 2008 national elections, political parties have been determining how best to convert the amplification and engagement created by social media during a campaign season into two-year and four-year governance.  Political parties have been encouraged to use social media in a number of ways including the following:

  • Acknowledging that the electorate is using social media as a “trust filter” of political news and information;
  • Realizing that politicians have decreasing control over debate topics and that control is shifting to social networks;
  • Making continued use of social media platforms to directly engage constituents;
  • Using social media platforms as “virtual surveys” of constituent sentiment and gauging feedback from the surveys; and
  • Leveraging ordinary citizens’ use of social media to persuade the electorate.

It is 2018 and Congress should view social media that has greater benefits as an electioneering tool if it is not regulated. From a regulatory perspective, there is no economic or legal justification for regulating social media as a public utility.

Trump’s political calculus on Moore

Social media’s reeling over Alabamans support for Roy Moore increased with a firm endorsement from President Donald J. Trump. Mr Moore’s bid to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by now Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been rocked by allegations of sexual misconduct with teen-aged girls almost four decades ago. The detailed analysis driven by in-depth reporting by The Washington Post should have thrown Mr Moore into the woodshed for a classic Alabama woodshed whooping, but recent polling, some of it questionable according to Politico, has Mr Moore still in the race.

This is after all the South, and Southerners have been showing a propensity to turn the eyeballs away from bad behavior if it means voting in a candidate that promotes good Christian values, such as keeping a replica of stone tablets with the Ten Commandments inscribed in your courtroom.

Mr Trump doesn’t have room to spare in the Senate where a couple moderate leaning types have shown some gumption for stirring up the legislative pot especially on health care and tax law reform. He will need as many reliable, steady Republican senators as he can get.

Also, a win here would send a signal that for all the reports that Mr Trump has lost some of his base, Mr Trump will have significant support going into the 2019-2020 campaign season.

A Moore win should also send a signal to the Democrats. Special counsel investigations and congressional hearings on Russia may not be enough to derail Mr Trump’s agenda much less get him out of office in 2020. They will still have to knock on doors in flyover country, an initiative that I have yet to sense any enthusiasm for from progressives.