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Cyber-republicanism.

ABSTRACT

In 1787 at the dawn of our nation, the Founding Fathers were embroiled in a raging debate over the role citizens and special interest groups should play in our political system. The Founding Fathers viewed influence from interest groups as a threat to government decision making, but they differed in their responses to this perceived problem. Proponents of republicanism, one of the dominant conceptions of politics at that time, adopted an optimistic approach. They anticipated that government leaders and citizens, guided by their education and civic virtue, would not allow factional tyranny to flourish. This republican optimism continues to markedly influence ongoing debates about the ability of rent-seeking actors to influence or "capture" government policymakers today.

This Article examines how the revolution in social media communications reshapes the centuries-old debate about capture. I argue that social media communications hold the potential to create two fundamental, but previously overlooked, benefits for our government system. Social media sites can create breeding grounds for so-called republican moments--periods in which an agitated public overcomes the power of special interest groups--to arise. This is true even though research suggests that social media communications tend to be shallow and unreliable.

The social media age also holds the potential to upgrade the relationships between citizens, government actors, and special interest groups during periods of politics-as-usual, the periods between republican moments. The threat of a viral uprising can motivate government actors and special interest groups to listen more closely to public concerns. It can further entice them to spend more resources on educating the public about issues of national, regional, and local concern. Such dialogue and education promotes the development of the republicans' utopian citizenry--citizens instilled with education and civic virtue. These two phenomena have profound implications for a variety of issues in public policy and government affairs.
TABLE OF CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION

I. DEVELOPMENT OF CAPTURE THEORIES
   A. Constitutional Roots
   B. Contemporary Capture Theory
II. RETHINKING CAPTURE THEORY
   A. Facilitating Republican Moments
      1. Deliberation
      2. Universalism
      3. Political Equality
      4. Citizenship
   B. The New Politics-As-Usual
   C. Implications of Cyber-Republicanism
III. COUNTERARGUMENTS
   A. Shallow, Misinformed Deliberation?
      1. Rational Ignorance
      2. Citizenship, Diversity, and Signals
   B. Internet Echo Chambers?
CONCLUSION
APPENDIX


"Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day." (1)

INTRODUCTION

A blogger, concerned about the quality of her children's school lunches, helped successfully pressure Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) into letting schools choose for the first time whether children must consume "pink slime" (2) in their school lunches. (3) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (4) and the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) (5) tightened their oversight of the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) industry (6) after YouTube videos of homeowners lighting their tap water on fire gained widespread publicity, (7) The Susan B. Komen Foundation abandoned its plan to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood and saw five of its high-ranking executives resign while protests about the Foundation's plan went viral on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. (8)

Each of these incidents reflects an ever increasing trend: the use of social media (9) as tools for ordinary citizens to influence policymakers. (10) These incidents defy the basic principles of public choice theory. (11) According to public choice theory, three obstacles prevent individuals from working together to achieve a public good: (1) the costs of organizing to achieve social benefits are high, (2) if a public good is attained, each individual will enjoy only a relatively small portion of the resulting benefits, and (3) each individual has an incentive to try to free ride off the sacrifices of others. (12) As a result, concentrated interests, rather than diffuse interests, such as those of individual citizens, are expected to "capture," or influence, policymakers. (13)

The idea that an impassioned citizenry can prompt policymakers to pay more attention to citizen interests is not new. Republican theorists at the dawn of our nation celebrated citizen engagement as a means of limiting the power of factions or special interest groups. (14) More recently, in 1990 James Gray Pope developed the concept of a "republican moment." (15) A republican moment occurs when an agitated public temporarily overcomes the political clout that organized groups otherwise have over policy decisions. (16) In other words, during a republican moment, the public choice model is momentarily suspended. Politics becomes characterized by widespread citizen engagement, rather than concentrated engagement by special interest groups. For instance, the environmental movement of the 1970s and the global climate change crisis of the early 21st century, which were periods in which an engaged citizenry prompted Congress to enact a series of pro-environment statutes and assist in the emergence of new social norms, have been thought to represent republican moments. (17)

There is little reason to worship the eighteenth-century republican philosophy, and this Article does not purport to do so. The beauty of the republican moment concept is that it does not require one to blindly accept every republican aspiration as truth. Instead, it embraces the key virtues of eighteenth-century republican theory--such as a commitment to deliberation, universalism, political equality, and citizenship--that are still highly valuable and relevant today.

Despite the substantial literature on republicanism and republican moments, no legal scholar has fully explored whether new social media platforms affect the development of republican moments. This Article fills this critical gap. To do so, I situate the capture literature among empirical studies and debates about the role the Internet and social media platforms play in our government system. (18) This produces several insights.

First, social media can create breeding grounds for republican moments to arise. With over half of all adult Americans already connected to Facebook (19) and almost all government institutions actively maintaining a site, social media provides increasingly unparalleled platforms for discourse among citizens and government actors. (20) This discourse gives citizens of every political persuasion the ability to contribute toward a perceived common good when an issue, such as the safety of meat additives in school lunches or the environmental implications of fracking, goes viral on social media platforms. (21)

Second, social media holds the potential to upgrade politics-as-usual, the period between republican moments. (22) They create incentives for government actors and special interest groups, such as the fracking industry, to invest more time and resources in educating and engaging the public about issues of local, regional, or national concern rather than focus on influencing or capturing government policymakers. (23) This shift in incentives promotes the development of our republican Founding Fathers' utopian citizenry--citizens instilled with education and resulting civic virtue who can deliberate on political issues and work toward a common good. (24) But more important than the fulfillment of eighteenth-century republican dreams is the fact that our society upgrades when deliberation, universalism, viewpoint diversity, and citizenship, rather than self-interested rent-seeking, underlie its political processes.

This Article focuses on the positive side of cyber-republicanism and its implications. I do not mean to promote a view that the emergence of platforms like Facebook and Twitter are entirely cause for celebration. (25) With more weight placed on social media communications, special interest groups face a greater temptation to spread false or misleading propositions on social media to further their own agendas. For instance, in the past two years alone, two multi-billion dollar companies, Facebook and Google, have succumbed to the temptation to mislead consumers on social media sites. (26) Such deceptive practices erode critical components of republicanism--including trust, education, and citizenship--and make it more difficult for republican moments to occur. It is also highly unlikely that socially-beneficial decisions will emerge based on deceptive information. (27) A related concern is that certain government institutions, such as administrative agencies, will succumb to the temptation to use social media to inappropriately promote policies, take political sides, and advance their own agendas. (28) However, the implications that arise from these negative aspects of cyber-republicanism, such as the need for greater checks on corporate and government self-promotion, share little common ground with the issue of valuing citizen-centered reform. This in mind, the negative aspects of cyber-republicanism warrant close examination in a separate work in the future.

This Article proceeds in three parts. Part I briefly traces the historical development of capture theory. It identifies the roots of contemporary capture theory in republican and pluralist conceptions of politics in the late eighteenth century. It then jumps ahead to the rise of public choice theory in the wake of the New Deal period and highlights concerns that government actors are overly susceptible to influence from special interest groups. It explains how active citizen engagement may create republican moments in which citizens temporarily overcome the power of special interest groups and contribute to fundamental social progress.

In Part II, I argue that the ever-increasing availability and use of social media, such as Twitter, (29) has enabled the voices of ordinary citizens to overcome organizational costs and express collective concerns. As a result, social media sites can serve as breeding grounds for republican moments. The social media revolution can further upgrade the basic form of politics-as-usual by creating incentives for government actors and special interest groups to engage and educate citizens about social issues. These two phenomena create profound implications for a variety of issues in public policy and government affairs.

Part III of this Article responds to potential counterarguments. One might argue that many social media communications, such as photographs of fluffy puppies, are shallow and do not contribute to meaningful deliberation. Yet the ability of social media users to post about any topic of interest promotes feelings of trust and community among users and contributes to viewpoint diversity. This, in turn, fosters an environment conducive to citizen engagement and mobilization. Additionally, the proliferation of online communications creates incentives for government actors and special interest groups to pay more attention to public concerns and to engage in richer dialogue with citizens about issues of public interest. For instance, a surge in ill-informed posts about food safety could prompt government and industry actors to increase citizen education about food safety and ultimately raise the level of public education. By recognizing the value of social media platforms in our political system, the government can find new ways to embrace its social media citizens.

I. DEVELOPMENT OF CAPTURE THEORIES

To understand how the social media age reshapes concerns about capture, it is first helpful to understand how capture theory evolved. This Part briefly explores the constitutional roots of capture theory. It then delves into several contemporary theories about capture, including public choice theory and republican moment theory, which have both enjoyed prominence among scholars.

A. Constitutional Roots

Long before the first tweet (30) or Facebook friend request was sent, long before Congress created the EPA or any other New Deal Agency, long before there were fifty states, the Founding Fathers of the United States Constitution were embroiled in a passionate debate over the roles individual citizens and special interest groups should play in the governance of the new nation. (31) Two conceptions of politics dominated the discussions surrounding the framing and ratification of the Constitution: republican and pluralist. (32) The republican and pluralist conceptions of politics remain important today for two reasons. First, they shed light on the structure and purpose behind the government system this nation enjoys, and thereby provide a litmus test for judging how well the vision of the Founding Fathers has been achieved. Second, they continue to profoundly influence ongoing debates about the ability of rent-seekers to capture government policymakers in our political system. (33)

The key difference between republican and pluralist conceptions of politics is their view of human nature. The republican conception of politics takes a particularly sunny view of human nature: "[I]t assumes that through discussion people can, in their capacities as citizens, escape private interests and engage in pursuit of the public good.... Moreover, this conception reflects a belief that debate and discussion help to reveal that some values are superior to others." (34)

A variety of different approaches toward politics have been associated with this optimistic republican conception, ranging from the classical republicans' emphasis on civic virtue as a "central organizing principle of ... politics" (35) to Madison's broader view of a republic as "a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people; and is administered by persons holding their offices during pleasure, for a limited period, or during good behavior." (36) Yet all republican theories contain four central political commitments: deliberation, universalism, political equality, and citizenships. (37) The republicans believed government leaders and citizens, guided by these commitments, would not allow factional tyranny to flourish. (38)

Pluralists adopted a more skeptical view of human nature than the republicans. (39) Rather than presuming that virtuous citizens would work together to achieve a discernible common good, pluralists presumed that individuals "come to the political process with preselected interests that they seek to promote through political conflict and compromise." (40) Pluralists perceived factions as a threat to such bargaining. Specifically, pluralists feared a "group, or an alliance of groups," would dominate the political processes and thereby inhibit the ability of others to voice their preferences. (41) From the pluralists' perspective, the common good consisted of unimpeded bargaining that revealed an aggregation of individual preferences. (42)

Ultimately, debates between the federalists and anti-federalists over pluralist and republican principles led to the basic structure of the American system of government today. To alleviate concerns about factional tyranny, the Founding Fathers tried to create a system of representative government with civic-minded leaders who are constrained by an engaged electorate and by a system of checks and balances. (43) As the next section discusses, the ability of this government system to guard against disproportionate influence from special interest groups has been a source of much debate among contemporary scholars.

B. Contemporary Capture Theory

Although the Founding Fathers attempted to design a government system that would serve the interests of the public, rather than special interest groups, concerns about special interest groups persist today. This section highlights the central concern of a number of judges and scholars--namely, that government actors are overly susceptible to influence from interest groups. It next explains how republican moments may temporarily alleviate this government vulnerability. (44)

The rise of the administrative state during the New Deal period preceded the rise of critics of the administrative processes during the 1960s. (45) Public choice theory, one of the dominant theories used to criticize the administrative state, adopts the traditional pluralist notion that politics is characterized by interest group bargaining. (46) Public choice theorists take an even more cynical view of representative government than the traditional pluralists. To the public choice theorists, policy making typically reflects the interests of powerful groups rather than broader public interests. (47) The public choice theorists view administrative agencies, in particular, as being overly susceptible to influence from business interests and vulnerable to being "captured" by the entities they are supposed to regulate. (48)

Scholars have articulated an assortment of ways through which special interest groups can capture government decision makers. According to one version of capture theory, regulatory agencies gradually become sympathetic to the industry they regulate due to their repeated interactions. (49) Another version is that regulatory policies are set behind closed-door meetings between rich lobbyists and powerful legislators, such as those on congressional committees who control regulatory agencies. (50) The bottom line is that governmental actors often generate larger benefits for rent-seekers than for the public. (51)

Public choice criticisms of the administrative state have contributed to radical changes in our legal system. Between 1962 and 1980, courts increased their control over agency decision making. (52) They expanded the availability of judicial review, embraced procedural formalities to empower interested parties to challenge agency decisions, and began to carefully scrutinize the "factual and analytical bases for [agency] decisions." (53) These changes shifted the purpose of courts from protecting private interests to ensuring that agencies considered the interests of all stakeholders. (54)

The judicial role in oversight started to soften in 1980. Since the election of President Ronald Reagan in 1980, judges and scholars, including now Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, have voiced preferences for a "unitary executive" model in which presidential oversight, rather than judicial review, limits agency discretion. (55) The shift toward a unitary executive model represents a new institutional approach to alleviating the capture problem but not a means of solving it entirely. As a result, public choice theory and concerns about capture remain strong. (56)

Although public choice theorists paint a gloomy picture of American government, there is a silver lining. In 1990, James Pope introduced a rejoinder to capture theory--the idea that civic republicanism had produced moments, including the Jeffersonian upsurge, the Age of Jackson, the Populist Era, and the 1960s, in which an engaged public had overcome the influence of special interest groups. (57) Pope explained:
   Strong democracy comes in pulses. During republican moments, large
   numbers of normally quiescent citizens enter the public arena to
   struggle for their visions of the common good. Passion and moral
   commitment set the tone for public discourse. Groups that are
   underrepresented in special interest bargaining use mass protest
   and other forms of direct power to place their concerns on the
   public agenda. Aroused citizens disrupt cozy relationships among
   politicians, administrators, and interest group lobbyists. (58)


He further explained:
   Our history has from the outset been characterized by periodic
   outbursts of democratic participation and ideological politics. And
   if history is any indicator, the legal system's response to these
   "republican moments" may be far more important than its attitude
   toward interest group politics. The most important transformations
   in our political order ... were brought on by republican moments.
   (59)


Pope noted that republican moments are not strictly republican. Direct citizen self-government does not "entirely displace the interest group process," and a deliberative republic is not implemented in a permanent or comprehensive form. (60) But republican moments are "republican" in the sense that they embody the key republican ideals. (61) The ideals of republicanism and republican moments--deliberation, universalism, political equality, and citizenship--remain as relevant today as in the eighteenth century.

In summary, public choice theorists presume that government actors primarily cater to special interest groups rather than to the general public. When citizens engage in widespread protest to achieve a common good, however, government actors can be motivated to take action that does indeed advance public interests during republican moments.

II. RETHINKING CAPTURE THEORY

Drawing upon the historical and theoretical insights of Part I, this Part evaluates how technological changes reshape contemporary capture theory. Using the key ideals of republicanism and republican moments that many still consider highly relevant and valuable today, this Article identifies, for the first time, two means by which social media communications can help correct the perceived failures of the administrative state. (62) First, social media create low-cost means for ordinary citizens to organize and express collective concerns to policymakers. As a result, republican moments may increase in frequency. Second, the social media age can upgrade politics during periods of politics-as-usual between republican moments because it gives special interest groups and government actors incentives to better educate and engage citizens about issues of public concern.

A. Facilitating Republican Moments

The dawn of the Internet Age produced optimism that cyberspace would lead to greater civic participation in political affairs. For instance, in 1999, Paul Schwartz used republican theory to predict "that cyberspace has the potential to emerge as an essential center of communal activities and political participation." (63) But it was not until the development of social media platforms that citizen-centered dialogue became a reality. As social media sites surge in popularity, they enable ordinary citizens to work together in record numbers to achieve a common good. In so doing, the sites empower citizens to advance the four central political commitments of republicanism: deliberation, universalism, political equality, and citizenship. (64) Although Mark Zuckerberg (65) and Jack Dorsey (66) likely did not have these commitments in mind when they founded Facebook and Twitter respectively, they unwittingly created breeding grounds for republican moments to arise.

1. Deliberation

"Emerging technologies open new forms of communication between a government and the people." (67)

The first commitment of republicanism is deliberation. Under the principle of deliberative politics, republicans viewed dialogue and discussion among citizens as critical features in the governmental process. (68) Rather than have self-interested and politically powerful groups shape political outcomes, republicans hoped that deliberation would enable political participants, guided by their education and resulting civic virtue, to put aside their personal interests and bring to light alternative perspectives and information. (69) Today, we continue to prize deliberation for its potential to be inclusive and to produce well-reasoned decisions, not decisions marked by corruption, close-mindedness, or rash thinking.

The radical transformation in communication practices over the past ten years has created new opportunities for ordinary citizens to deliberate on politics, government policies, and any other topic of national or local interest. The "new" electronic media, social media, has not changed the speed a single message can be communicated. "Old" electronic media, such as email and internet bulletin boards, as well as earlier technological breakthroughs, such as the facsimile and telephone, enabled individuals to communicate ideas with persons on the other side of the globe instantaneously. What is important to recognize is that (1) social media platforms include mechanisms that enable ideas to be discussed more rapidly and diffusely than previously possible, and (2) people are using social media to communicate from a fundamentally different approach than they used old electronic media. Social media now provides individuals a low-cost means of sharing ideas as participants in citizen-centered communities. As a result, discussion on the platforms is more open and free flowing. Indeed, the amount of discussion that takes place on social media sites is jaw-dropping. Twitter users send out an average of 400 million tweets per day, (70) and the amount of user activity on Facebook far surpasses that of Twitter. Facebook users generate an average of 3.2 billion "likes" and "comments" each day. (71) By giving and receiving information, commenting on it, and forwarding it on to a new network, individuals can critique and assess an unlimited variety of ideas and issues with expanding circles of communities. (72)

The leading social media platforms provide exceptional forums for citizen-centered dialogue to occur. Twitter claims it is the "fastest, simplest way to stay close to everything you care about.... [W]ith just a Tweet, millions of people learn about or show their support for positive initiatives that might have otherwise gone unnoticed." (73) Facebook's mission statement indicates it also serves as a tool for dialogue and discussion: "People use Facebook ... to discover what's going on in the world, and to share and express what matters to them." (74) Similarly, YouTube, a site that purports to enable "billions of people to discover, watch and share originally-created videos," aspires to help individuals "connect, inform, and inspire others across the globe." (75)

Beyond their mission statements, social media sites have built-in mechanisms for discussion and debate among citizens. A Facebook user can broadcast her "status" update to her network of "friends," which generally includes friends, family members, colleagues, groups, government bodies, and even persons whom the user hardly knows, to let them know what the user is thinking. (76) The friends can then comment on the status, indicate that they "like" it, or share it with their friends. Once a friend comments on, likes, or shares a status, all of the friends in that person's network can generally see the status update and the responses. (77) With each additional response to a status update, the number of individuals who can see the status and respond to it expands exponentially.

Twitter provides a comparable service to Facebook in which users "follow" individuals, such as friends, family members, celebrities, and government institutions. (78) After an individual "tweets" his thoughts and observations to his followers, the followers can reply to the "tweet," mark it as a "favorite," or "retweet" it to their own followers. (79)

Social media users are not limited to written dialogues but can also share pictures, news articles, videos, and images. The Appendix, for instance, depicts the lyrics to an informative, yet humorous, song expressing concerns about fracking. (80) The value of such media diversity should not be underappreciated. Images and videos have long been known to amplify public sentiments about an issue. For instance, scholars have suggested that graphic photographs taken during the Vietnam War triggered outrage about the war:
   Images can end wars.... Like the photo taken after the My Lai
   massacre, showing dead babies piled half-naked in a dirt road atop
   their slain mothers and brothers and sisters, or the photo of the
   Saigon police chief pulling the trigger on a wincing Viet Cong
   officer, or the image of a little Vietnamese girl running naked,
   screaming, her clothes burnt off by the horrible, hot blast of a
   napalm attack. (81)


Videos can trigger similar reactions. In 1991, a video depicting the beating of a man named Rodney King by police officers enflamed racial tensions and, after the acquittal of the officers, led to a week of violent riots. (82)

Not only do social media sites enable citizens to discuss issues among themselves more readily and in a variety of mediums, the sites enhance citizen-government dialogue. Numerous government institutions, including administrative agencies, the White House, and the State Department, maintain Facebook pages, (83) Twitter accounts, (84) and blogs (85) in which they actively discuss ongoing government initiatives with interested citizens. Indeed, all of the president's fifteen Cabinet agencies maintain at least one Twitter account. (86) And a survey conducted by the Government Accountability Office reported that, as of April 2011, twenty-three of the twenty-four federal agencies surveyed had a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. (87) Another 2011 survey found that 26 percent of 3000 federal managers used Facebook to communicate with colleagues, 17 percent used it to communicate with the public, 8 percent used it to communicate with other agencies, 4 percent used it for recruiting purposes, and 26 percent used it for conducting research. (88)

Part of the government enthusiasm for new media comes from presidential initiative. On President Obama's first day in office, he issued a memorandum urging agencies to use new technologies to promote "transparency, public participation, and collaboration" (89) He directed: "executive departments and agencies should harness new technologies to put information about their operations and decisions online and readily available to the public. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public feedback to identify information of greatest use to the public." (90) The Office of Management and Budget then issued the "Open Government Directive," which required executive departments and agencies to make government information available online in a format that citizens can find through web search applications, (91) as well as guidance documents to help agencies use social media. (92) These developments will likely contribute to further growth in government activity on social media.

The high level of government involvement online does not necessarily mean that government actors monitor all public social media communications. It would likely be physically impossible for any single organization to read every tweet or Facebook post. Even if it was technically possible, it would be an enormously inefficient use of resources as persons would need to spend countless hours reviewing social media communications only to reap few rewards in terms of new ideas or information. (93)

Nonetheless, when a debate involving a government position or policy starts to spread virally around the Internet, it would be difficult for the government and relevant industries not to notice. Much of the communication on social media sites is accessible to the general public. (94) Additionally, with many comments in writing in a permanently retrievable form, (95) the number of individuals who publicly "like," comment on, or "tweet" about a particular issue that is spreading virally is readily determinable through search engines. (96)

These numbers reveal useful information about individuals' private interests. For instance, the Facebook page "Stop Bullying: Speak Up," which "seeks to raise awareness of the simple, yet powerful actions that parents, kids, and educators can take to prevent bullying," garnered 2,236,796 likes by October 30, 2013. (97) In contrast, the United States government's Facebook page entitled "Health Care Reform" received only 42,040 likes by the same date. (98) Given that the government's page was twenty-six months older than the bullying page, the discrepancy between the number of likes could be interpreted as suggesting differences in citizen preferences that may merit further investigation. (99) Thus, through the interactions on social media sites, government actors can learn about public concerns and interests, and engage in better dialogue with the public.

Social media sites thus provide a means for citizens to deliberate on an unlimited range of policy issues among themselves and with government actors. Through these forums, information relevant to government policy making can come to light when a debate spreads virally. The debates prompt government actors and special interest groups to better understand public concerns and address them.

2. Universalism

The second commitment of republican theories, universalism, intertwines closely with deliberation, but it focuses more on the end product of deliberation: the belief that through deliberation, general agreement about the common good can sometimes be achieved. (100) The republican belief in universalism explains why government actors today continue to select and pronounce values to support, such as environmental protection and anti-discrimination. (101)

Social media constitute effective tools for furthering the republican commitment to universalism, as the pink slime story illustrates. The government's role in the story started in 2001 when the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the USDA approved the process for making ammonia-treated Lean Finely Textured Beef (LFTB). (102) Fast food chains like McDonald's, Burger King, and Taco Bell; supermarket chains like Safeway, Kroger, and Food Lion; and elementary schools across the nation all added the cheap meat filler to their beef products. (103) In 2011 and 2012, however, the tide of public opinion turned rapidly against the product that had been notoriously dubbed "pink slime." (104) After news reports and other media highlighted a few controversial aspects of the product, (105) anti-pink slime sentiments spread like wildfire across popular social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. (106)

One blogger in particular played a key role in feeding the anti-slime fire. On March 6, 2012, Bettina Elias Siegel, a mother concerned about the quality of food being served in schools, started a petition on Change.org calling for the cessation of pink slime in school food. (107) The petition soon garnered the support of over 258,000 people. (108)

Less than two weeks after Siegel started her petition, the government began to rethink its approach towards LFTB. By March 14, 2012, forty-one members of Congress signed a letter asking the USDA to disallow the use of LFTB in school lunches. (109) Just one day later, the USDA announced it would provide more options to schools and allow them to make an informed choice as to whether to continue their use of LFTB. (110) After approximately two more weeks, the USDA agreed to allow clearer labeling for meat products, so consumers would know whether the beef they consumed contained LFTB. (111)

As the government responded to the controversy, the meat industry did as well. Most of the major grocery chains, including Kroger and Giant, announced they would no longer sell LFTB. (112) Other chains, such as Whole Foods and Costco, informed customers that they did not carry products with LFTB. (113) Yet others, like Walmart and Hy-Vee, decided to offer their customers a choice of products with and without LFTB. (114) The decreased demand for LFTB forced the largest producer of LFTB, BPI, to close down three of its four plants and prompted AFA Foods, a Pennsylvania ground beef processor, to file for bankruptcy. (115)

Whether one views the pink slime story as one of an ill-informed public meddling with science-based decisions (116) or as a story of David, an individual consumer, bringing down a Goliath-sized industry, the meat industry, (117) the story has an important lesson: individuals can use social media sites to work toward a perceived common good. Siegel was not a member of the food industry; she was a concerned mother. If all she cared about was her own children, she could have sent them to school each day with homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. Her petition attracted hundreds of thousands of signatures because she appealed to a general principle that others valued: protecting the welfare of the nation's children. Similar appeals to public values through social media sites have prompted hundreds of thousands of individuals to sign up to become organ donors, (118) to support an array of nonprofit organizations, (119) to donate over $700,000 for a bus monitor who was bullied by seventh-grade boys, (120) to quickly raise concern about the atrocities committed by a Ugandan rebel leader, (121) and to even help take down a powerful dictator in Egypt. (122) Social media communications have further enabled millions to pressure Congress to put aside bills that might censor Internet sites (123) and to pressure the Susan B. Komen Foundation to abandon its plan to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood. (124)
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Title Annotation:Introduction to II. Rethinking Capture Theory A. Facilitating Republican Moments 2. Universalism, p. 383-409
Author:Tran, Sarah
Publication:William and Mary Law Review
Date:Nov 1, 2013
Words:5555
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