03 August 2006

Pure Fallacy

I received this in my email box today. I have not researched this issue, nor do I intend to, but this seemed to me like blatant propaganda to unreasoning readers. It seems like a good example of how not to win a debate. It is targeted to eBay customers from the eBay CEO.

As you know, I almost never reach out to you personally with a request to get involved in a debate in the U.S. Congress. However, today I feel I must.

Right now, the telephone and cable companies in control of Internet access are trying to use their enormous political muscle to dramatically change the Internet. It might be hard to believe, but lawmakers in Washington are seriously debating whether consumers should be free to use the Internet as they want in the future.

Join me by clicking here -- http://www.ebaymainstreet.com/netneutrality -- to send a message to your representatives in Congress.

The phone and cable companies now control more than 95% of all Internet access. These large corporations are spending millions of dollars to promote legislation that would allow them to divide the Internet into a two-tiered system.

The top tier would be a "Pay-to-Play" high-speed toll-road restricted to only the largest companies that can afford to pay high fees for preferential access to the Net.

The bottom tier -- the slow lane -- would be what is left for everyone else. If the fast lane is the information "super-highway," the slow lane will operate more like a dirt road.

Today's Internet is an incredible open marketplace for goods, services, information and ideas. We can't give that up. A two-lane system will restrict innovation because start-ups and small companies -- the companies that can't afford the high fees -- will be unable to succeed, and we'll lose out on the jobs, creativity and inspiration that come with them.

The power belongs with Internet users, not the big phone and cable companies. Let's use that power to send as many messages as possible to our elected officials in Washington. Please join me by clicking here right now to send a message to your representatives in Congress before it is too late. You can make the difference.

Thank you for reading this note. I hope you'll make your voice heard today.

I have little interest in either the success of eBay or the success of cable and phone companies. Here's my beef:

(1) It uses ad hominem argumentation. "Big...companies" and "large corporations" need not be a term of slander, but it certainly carries bad connotations in this letter. Interestingly the ad hominem assumes that big companies are inherently bad and the enemy of the consumer.

(2) It makes no attempt to present the reasoning behind the other side of the issue in a way that the other side would agree with. Doesn't somebody's child depend on the money mommy makes at the phone company? Doesn't somebody want to put their kid through school on hard-earned money made at the phone company? No, of course not. They're all greedy scoundrels.

(3) It makes no attempt to make eBay's motives clear. Apparently the phone companies are greedy scoundrels, and eBay is our best friend looking out solely for our interests. Who knew? Why don't they "reach out to [me] personally" a little more often, if we're such good friends?

(4) It makes no attempt to explain in numerical or even practical terms the differences between the two services. It only serves to incite disdain for large companies who are forcing the reader onto a "dirt road" while they ride happily on the "super highway." Rhetoric like this may have its place in argumentation, but it must be grounded in stated facts. Otherwise it is simply loaded language.

(5) It makes way too many assumptions. (a) The letter assumes, without argumentation, that it is not the right of phone and cable service providers to provide services as they please for their own prosperity as companies.

(b) It assumes, without argumentation, that it is the right of the government to stop a company from offering its service to whom it pleases and in the manner it pleases for its own prosperity.

(c) It assumes, without argumentation, that it is my right to have the same type of internet access that rich companies do regardless of how much either of us are able to pay for the service.

(d) It assumes, as I have mentioned, that large companies are evil. (By the way, last I heard eBay was not a "start-up" or "small company.") The phrase, "large corporations" hints at monopoly and unfair business practices without having the guts to make the accusation and without presenting the evidence to substantiate it. The letter slanders large companies for trying to do the same thing eBay is supposed to be trying to do (and which they are probably trying to do illegitimately by pulling this very stunt): make money.

So don't be an unreasoning reader. Research the issue if you will; think about it if you will; give your support if you will. But don't do it because of this letter. The sole value of this letter is practice in identifying logical fallacies and unsubstantiated assumptions.

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