Senate Updates Web Rules to Allow YouTube Videos

Posted September 23, 2008 at 6:45pm

Senators can now legally post YouTube videos on their Web sites, thanks to a long-awaited update to the chamber’s rules.

Until now, any Senator who embedded a YouTube video or linked to a Flickr album was in violation of outdated rules that required them to keep within the domain. Some posted such links anyway, and few were reprimanded.

But last week, the Senate Rules and Administration Committee voted to allow Senators to use third-party sites. All the normal franking rules apply: No product endorsement, no partisan material and no unrelated personal information is allowed.

Howard Gantman, spokesman for Rules Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), called the change “a major step into the future.”

“The explosion of new internet technologies can provide Senate offices with important ways to better communicate with the public and increase the transparency of government operations,” he wrote in an e-mail. “When the regulations were last revised in 2005, many of these technologies were in their infancy and prohibitions were left in place on their use.”

The House is still struggling with the issue. Democrats and Republicans agree that the current restrictions are unrealistic; with everyone violating the rules, true enforcement is impossible. The House servers can’t keep up with the demand for online multimedia, and Members are forced to find free outside sites that can.

But Members are divided on how to handle the problem.

More than two months ago, the franking commission recommended that the House Administration Committee approve each third-party Web site individually.

Republicans immediately criticized the decision, claiming it would be time-consuming and limit Members. Instead, they called for updated regulations, which would last longer in an ever-changing Internet environment.

Ever since, the commission’s proposal has sat in the hands of the House Administration panel, but the committee has yet to vote on it. A knowledgeable House aide, who asked to remain anonymous, said the issue was unlikely to come up again until the next Congress.

In comparison, the Senate has worked quickly.

Earlier this year, Senate officials planned to go the route of the House franking commission and keep a list of “approved Web sites” that agreed to provide pages free of advertisements or partisan leanings.

But after the complaints in the House, Senate officials switched gears, and the approved rule change now mimics the Republican plan. Senators have the discretion to use whatever third-party Web site they want, as long as it follows the Senate’s Internet Services Usage Rules and Policies.

The Rules Committee, however, will still keep an “approved list” to give Senators guidance.

“I think we fine-tuned the plan,” Gantman said. “We dealt with some of the objections.”

The committee will now try to educate Senators on the new rules and how to follow them, Gantman added.

With new technology comes mistakes. Sometimes Members will embed not only a video on their official Web site, but also the related advertisements that usually show up on YouTube.

It can be embarrassing: Gantman recalled one Senator who unintentionally had a link to an interview with a stripper.

With this new freedom to post videos, “offices do have to be careful,” he said.