When I was developing my thesis project, Cause Caller, for my masters at NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, I was routinely confronted with the idea of including a feature allowing ordinary citizens to have access to the auto-dialing capabilities that normally only telemarketers and political campaigns use.
In other words, should I have created the functionality where users can “robodial” politicians similar to how politicians harangue citizens? The technology is still trivial to implement — users could simply record one message and have it sent to every politician on a list automatically.
The Federal Trade Commission just passed a law “basically outlawing” similar telemarketing calls. But the twist is that the law seems to specifically protect prerecorded political robocalls:
However for those who have called on the FTC to help eliminate the other phone scourge – political robocalls – the new rule will not help. Calls from political campaigns are considered protected speech an FTC representative said.
Somehow political robocalls are considered speech where business solicitations aren’t, and cannot be regulated by a trade commission. While this does give me better legal footing to launch such a feature, I’m still not thrilled about adding it.
Part of what makes Cause Caller fun (and effective, I think) is because citizens are obligated to verbalize their ideas to politician’s offices in their own voice, repeatedly. This has the effect of bringing them closer to the democratic process, because even if they are simply reading a script, they are interacting with another citizen about an issue they care about. By removing that human element I would effectively remove the core element that makes the exchange meaningful. Cause Caller would annoy politicians offices and that is about it.