Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Tom Duffy

The Use of Community Matters on Campaign Ad without Permission . . . Illegal or just Disrespectful?

This week I received several phone calls and emails concerning the Molly Duffy campaign ad received by township residents. I was asked why I had sanctioned the use of Community Matters on the Special Election campaign literature. All I could say in response was that Community Matters was used without my permission.

Prior to the printing of this campaign ad by the Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee, I was not asked, notified nor did I verify the identity of ‘Resident #1’; the source of the September 19th Community Matters quote used on the mailer. No identifying date or URL (identifying website) from Community Matters appears on the campaign ad, only the quote and the words, ‘Community Matters’. By using Community Matters without appropriate annotation, the reader of the campaign ad could attribute the quote to ‘me’ as the administrator of Community Matters rather than to someone who commented anonymously. The use of Community Matters on Duffy’s campaign ad could further appear that I sanctioned the use of this quote and/or the use of Community Matters for political purpose.

This situation and misuse of Community Matters in a political campaign ad by the Tredyffrin Township Democratic Committee has really saddened me this week. My intention in creating Community Matters eighteen months ago was not to see it used in this way; it is too important. Community Matters is for the community not for use as political fodder. This campaign ad using Community Matters has placed me in an uncomfortable and awkward position.

In the past, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Main Line Suburban and the Daily Local have sought my permission prior to any publication of Community Matters materials. Other online news sources and blogs have added Community Matters to their sites but have done so with my permission. It would seem reasonable to expect that a local campaign committee would likewise extend the same courtesy. Was the use of Community Matters by the TTDEMS without my permission illegal? No. Was its use unethical or disrespectful . . . ?

Campaign ads that quote from blogs (in this case Community Matters), on which it is often difficult to identify the author, represent a new benchmark in Tredyffrin Township political campaigns. Some that study political advertising feel that using anonymous comments from a blog may violate a well-known standard in political campaigns that a charge against an opponent should be easy to verify.

When someone posts anonymously on Community Matters, how is it that a political campaign can just ‘use’ this information, state it as ‘fact’, and apply it against the candidate. In political advertising, you have to have a source and that source must be verifiable. If the author of a comment posts under his or her actual name on Community Matters (that is verifiable rather than anonymous) a different situation is then presented. Several people, including Andrea Felkins, Ray Clarke, John Peteresen, Kevin Grewell and Ken Buckwalter to name a few, have chosen to identify themselves in their Community Matters comments. Should a verifiable quote be used it would be different but the quote used on this campaign ad was anonymous.

In a Washington Post, article, ‘Blog Comments Become Fodder for Campaign Ads,’ Gary Nordlinger, a Democratic consultant and past chairman of the American Association of Political Consultants ethics committee, said unnamed comments or remarks on blogs should be off-limits. “The AAPC code of ethics says don’t run anything misleading, and arguably this [the use of anonymous comments from a blog] could be misleading,” Nordlinger said. “All a candidate has in his campaign is his or her own personal credibility, and when you run advertising that can be easily revealed as baseless, the attacking candidate puts their credibility at risk.”

I want to be clear . . . my speaking out is not intended to cost votes to one candidate nor do I expect my actions to influence or give additional votes to another candidate in next week’s Special Election. However, sometimes you have to stand up for yourself and do what you think is right; and for me this is that watershed moment.

Do I believe that the TTDEMs used Community Matters on the Molly Duffy campaign ad to intentionally harm me? Probably not. My guess is that they just did not give much thought to my feelings. For the record, the Terms & Condition for Use of Community Matters appears on the home page, click here to read.

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