Will Publishing Public Notices On Facebook Inspire More Americans to Give a Damn About the Regulatory Process?


Over at InfoVegan, Clay Johnson suggests that governments stop paying to run public notices in newspapers:

Local laws require public notices to be placed in the local papers. It equates to large subsidies going from government to the press. It's an awkward loop where money flows from government coffers to the papers who endorse candidates. It isn't chump change either. According to one study from the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy, the State of Pennsylvania may spend upwards of $25 Million a year on public notice advertising.

And also, that agencies stop using god-awful .gov sites: 

Moving a notice from a publication with a circulation of 100,000 to a website with 500 visits a day is a reduction of notifications. In 2009, the Obama administration sought to move its asset forfeiture public notices onto forfeiture.gov to save the government about 6 million dollars over five years. The problem is, nobody knows about or goes to forfeiture.gov. This blog, for instance, is infrequently updated and has a very niche audience, but it still beats forfeiture.gov in terms of overall public exposure. The net result of simply moving public notices online is often less public notification. And when there are notifications, they are PDF files that look, amazingly, like this.

In their place, says Johnson, agencies should Facebook their notices. He points out that with 150 million users in the U.S. alone, Facebook reaches more people than the 109 Million U.S. newspaper subscriptions reported by the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

The premise of Johnson's post is that less than .0015% of the country's 303 million wireless subscribers (roughly 4,000) submitted comments to the FCC on the AT&T T-Mobile merger, and that successfully "pushing the government to publicly deliberate online in the places we're at rather than to continue the trend of public notice obfuscation via the web" could increase that number. But I'm wondering if the delivery system is only party of the problem. For instance, here is the first paragraph of a summary of a public notice posted on federalregister.gov (not, to be fair, relating to the FCC or telecomm issues): 

On April 21, 2011, in litigation arising out of the Department of Commerce's ("Department") final determination in the less-than-fair-value ("LTFV") investigation of certain steel threaded rod ("steel threaded rod") from the People's Republic of China ("PRC"),1 the United States Court of International Trade ("CIT") sustained the Department's results of redetermination. Pursuant to the CIT's remand order in Jiaxing Brother Fastener Co., Ltd. v. United States, Consol. Court No. 09-00205, Slip Op. 10-128 (November 16, 2010) ("Jiaxing Brother"), the Department found that the financial statements of the Indian company, Rajratan Global Wire Ltd. ("Rajratan"), are an appropriate source of data for calculating the surrogate financial ratios. See Jiaxing Brother Fastener Co., Ltd. v. United States, Consol. Court No. 09-00205, Slip Op. 11-44 (April 21, 2011) ("Jiaxing Brother II"). Consistent with the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ("CAFC") in Timken Co. v. United States, 893 F.2d 337 (Fed. Cir. 1990) ("Timken"), as clarified by Diamond Sawblades Mfrs. Coalition v. United States, 626 F.3d 1374 (Fed. Cir. 2010) ("Diamond Sawblades"), the Department is notifying the public that the final judgment in this case is not in harmony with the Department's Final Determination and is amending its Final Determination and Antidumping Duty Order.

Somehow, I don't think posting the above notice to Facebook is going to increase citizen participation in the debate over steel-threaded rods from China. 

NEXT: Illegal Immigration: A Feature, Not A Bug, Said Milton Friedman

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Max Baucus should have to come to my house and personally notify me of whatever stupid shit he’s up to.

  2. And he’d better have his clown nose on.

  3. I’m not sure why shifting the subsidy from newspapers to Facebook is such a good idea, or why moving the notices from classifieds nobody reads to Facebook postings nobody reads will increase “public notice”.

    1. Excellent point.

    2. What about “traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice”?

      More people have access to a newspaper than they do to Facebook. Hence, how can the state comport with notice requirements when it deliberately chooses to communicate through medium with less accessibility than a newspaper?

      1. I challenge the thought that posting a public notice in the classified section of a local newspaper is more accessible than Facebook/whatever.

        1. Why?

          In a given locale, does everybody have access to a computer with the internet? Even if you counter that almost anybody can go to the public library and use its computers (which, in and of itself, is not universally true), that is more of an effort than picking up the local free or 50 cent paper.

      2. Why are you quoting a Supreme Court decision that has absolutely nothing to do with the subject at hand? Did you think we would all be impressed?

  4. See Jiaxing Brother Fastener Co., Ltd.

    It was around this point that I contemplated sticking my arm in the blender…

    Please, Reason… you do bad things sometimes. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, reprint government notices. It is the Language of Mordor, and it should not be uttered here.

    1. The room just went really dark, and I felt a chill go through my soul.

    2. If you put the ring on, Obama can see you! Don’t do it!

      1. The Nine Predator Drones?

        1. Probably more the Nine Secretaries.

        2. So that makes Hilary the Lord of the Nazgul? And whose the woman who is going to slay her?

      2. I think that’s how they found bin Laden — just luck that he was wearing it when one of our great eyes swept that part of the globe.

  5. This would be an excellent reason to finally create a ‘Dislike’ button.

  6. investigation of certain steel threaded rod (“steel threaded rod”)

    Seriously- WTF?

    Shouldn’t that be something like, (rod: steel, threaded)?

    1. and shouldn’t it be “threaded steel rod”? Wouldn’t a steel threaded rod be a do that is threaded with steel?

  7. It’s a good idea to stop paying newspapers and start posting online.
    How many people actually read the public notices in newspapers anyway? The circulation of a newspaper is not comparable to the number of hits on a website. People must actively choose to see a public notice to end up on a .gov website.

    But if nobody chooses to seek it out, that’s really not a problem, and I personally don’t give a crap if it is in legalese. As long as it’s available online, albeit easier if it is in blog form, that should be sufficient. Everyone who cares about such things will be able to find the website.

    1. “How many people actually read the public notices in newspapers anyway?”

      I imagine that very few do, but I occasionally look at the asset forfeiture notices in the WSJ, which are a daily reminder of how the 5th Amendment is a dead letter.

  8. The best thing would be for government to mail every public notice to every known address.

    It will be a colossal waste that will bombard every person and piss them off. Easily ignorable public notices aren’t doing the trick.

    1. Mandatory twitter feeds for everyone.

  9. It would be nice if they were treated like google ads, and showed up in the right pane if they were relevent to your search results, or email contents.

    1. Gaia knows we’re trying!


  11. Put ’em *all* in publicnotices.gov. Have the President mention this during each SOTU address.

    And my answer to the titular question is “No”. Will Publishing More Kardashian Photos On Facebook Inspire More Americans to Give a Damn About the Whatever-They-Do Process?

  12. You assume that the government wants you to read these notices, and they do not.

  13. Just think of the jobs they’d save if they posted them on MySpace. I mean, it’d save or create dozens of jobs!

  14. Ever see the page after page, in smallest type possible, listings of asset seizures in the WSJ? I suggest the notices need to be read aloud on the floor of the House and Senate or else the money and goods go back to the person they were seized from.

  15. “certain steel threaded rod”

    Does anybody remember the perfect-bound reports on import/expert controversies the Commerce Department used to publish, with olive green covers? I loved those things. I kept one of them for years just so when some smalltalker asked if I was reading any interesting books, I could look that person in the eye and say, “Why I’m reading Certain Helical Spring Lockwashers from China.” (That’s a real title.)

    1. These publications, including the Federal Register, form an excellent proof that this is decidedly not the government described in the Constitution, and is in fact literally a bureaucracy: rule by bureaucrats. I mean, think about it – there are people who get paid to do nothing but sit there and analyze whether a certain import of sheet metal or cane sugar or lockwashers is in compliance with anti-dumping laws. There aren’t enough lampposts and enough rope in the world, frankly…

  16. Posting public notices on Facebook would either spam everyone with unwanted legal notices, or send notices into some niche on Facebook that only interested parties will see – like the newspaper notices.

    The publication of forfeiture notices on a dedicated website is a great idea – but one the government has not actually implemented. Go to http://www.forfeiture.gov and you’ll see – the agencies that seize the most property – DEA, FBI, & Treasury – are not yet publishing their administrative forfeiture notices on it. People whose property is seized who want to find out what’s happening with their property have to figure out which obscure newspaper in some far away city is publishing the notices, and then somehow check that paper every day in order to find the notice. The money paid newspapers to provide such “notice” is money wasted.

    Forfeiture.gov is a great idea which needs to be actually implemented – a.s.a.p. For notices of public hearings and such, each agency should be required to publish those notices on its own website. That way interested citizens can watch their local or state government’s website for such notices, and not have to wade through reams of irrelevant legal notices from other agencies and entities.

    Brenda Grantland
    forfeiture defense lawyer

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.