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Philly’s Blog Tax: You’re Mad for the Wrong Reasons


Last week, Valerie Rubinsky of the Philadelphia City Paper broke a news story that’s been getting national attention. Bloggers in this city are now required to purchase a $300 business license if their blog is designed to make money. For many bloggers, that price far exceeds the amount of money they make on their blog. Heck, even if they take the $50 per year option instead of the one-time $300 option, many bloggers are still losing money every year.

Keep in mind that this is on top of local taxes any blogger has to pay on earnings. For some bloggers, this may mean they have to shut down their blogs.

To say that this is an unpopular law is an understatement. I’m seeing bloggers across the country tweeting about it, outraged at the idea that hobby bloggers will have to buy a license. That’s typically the initial reaction whenever people have to pay more in taxes.

I’m not a tax professional. Not at all. If you want a tax professional, head to taxgirl, who is, coincidentally, from Philly. So, if you think I’m misinformed on any of the below points, please, please, please correct me. I’ve spent some time reading about this issue, doing the best research I could do in a limited time, and this is my main conclusion:

Ya’ll are mad for the wrong reason.

I get it. No one wants to pay more money. Everyone is already responsible for paying taxes on any income they earn from blogging, and this seems like overkill. But if you really are outraged by this law, you should have been fighting for small business rights a long time ago.

Hear me out.

Point One: This isn’t a new law.

This is a law already in place that they are newly trying to enforce. Yes, I do believe its because the city needs money, not because they feel like some great injustice is occurring. That doesn’t change the fact that businesses in Philadelphia have been required to buy a license for…well, I can’t find a date when this policy was first put into effect, but before last week! What is new is the fact that they are now identifying bloggers as business owners, whereas they did not before.

Point Two: Bloggers ARE business owners.

Not every blogger is a business owner, of course, but if you’re actively trying to make a profit on your blog, you certainly are! I’ve fought tooth an nail to be considered legitimate, to teach people that blogging is not just about having an online journal. Heck, there’s even a panel at BlogWorld about how to treat your blog more like a business. The definition of business is “commercial enterprise: the activity of providing goods and services involving financial and commercial and industrial aspects.” If you make money from your blog, even just a little, you’re providing goods (content) for money. Go ahead and argue with me that I’m not a business owner. I will claw out your eyes.

Point Three: Not every business is successful.

Let’s say a new restaurant pops up in your community. After about a year, the owner declares bankruptcy because they haven’t been successful at making money. Does that mean that they weren’t actually a business? No way. Businesses try to make money, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t a business if they don’t actually make any money or make only a small amount. So if you’re a blogger trying to make money, it shouldn’t matter how successful you are. You’re a business, the same way a failed restaurant is a business.

Point Four: The world isn’t fair.

Businesses, including bloggers, have to pay for a business license in Philly. They don’t have to in other jurisdictions. That’s not fair.

Dude. The world isn’t fair. No matter where you live, there’s going to be something that isn’t fair about it. It’s not fair that I have to pay for trash removal when my friend, who lives a few towns over and pays the same tax rate, has his trash picked up for free. It’s not fair that my parents have to pay more money for Internet service than I do because they live in a rural area. It’s not fair that people in some counties of Pennsylvania have to pay for an annual emissions test on their car, while people in other counties do not.

I am not saying that you should just live with it. If you disagree with the fact that Philly requires a business license, you don’ t have to live there. Move outside of the city limits. I know that’s not an easy thing for many people to do, but we all get to choose where we live. No one’s holding a gun to your head and making your live in Philly, so if you don’t agree with the city’s policies, don’t live there.

Or, better yet, head to the polls and vote for people who make policies that fall in line with what you believe. Get out there and support Bill Green and Maria Quiñones-Sánchez in their quest to change this law so that a clear line is drawn between what is and what is not a business. But don’t do so because you don’t think it’s fair for you to have to pay for a license. Do so because you think it is the most fair option for all businesses in the city, both online and brick-and-mortar.

Point Five: It is really easy to not be a business.

The last point I want to make is this: if you honestly don’t consider your blog a business, you should have no problem taking down your advertising. From what I’ve read, Philly is not saying that hobby blogs with no form of income have to buy a license. The city is only requiring to purchase the license if you make money some way. So, if you made $10 in the past year and are outraged that someone would consider you a business because it’s only $10, remove your ads and truly be a hobby bloggers. After all, in your own words, it was only $10.

If that thought makes you mad, if you believe you have the right to make back some money for the content you provide on your blog, congratulations – you are a business. Yes, you absolutely have the right to make money – just remember that in Philly, the law says you have to be licensed to do so, no matter how much money you make.

I hope I haven’t created too many enemies with this piece. Even some of the other people here at BlogWorld may not agree with me on this one. It certainly is a hot topic right now, and whenever people are told they owe money, it’s an involuntary reaction to go on the defense. As it is written, the law isn’t fair, in my opinion…but there needs to be a threshold in place for all businesses, not just bloggers.

Allison Boyer is a writer for BWE’s blog and the owner/manager of After Graduation. She’s promises not to claw out your eyes if you disagree with her, only if you tell her she’s not a legitimate business owner. Disagreeing (in a mature way) is as encouraged as showing support!

Army Lifts Social Media Ban


army-logo Chalk this one up as a victory for the brave men and women around the country that are helping to keep our country completely safe and sound.  Up until this point, due to security concerns and privacy worries by ol’ Uncle Sam, the U.S. Army had blocked the vast majority of all social media and Web 2.0 sites on all of their bases.  That meant, for our soldiers, they had no access to Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, Myspace or Vimeo…the sites that, if we’re honest, steal a great deal of our time on a daily basis.

The good news is that now that the U.S. Army has re-evaluated their stance on it, they’ve decided to lift the social media ban at certain U.S. bases that have most likely passed through the checklists and red tape to make it happen.  According to reports:

“The order was made to “leverage social media sites as a medium to allow soldiers to ‘tell the Army story’ and to facilitate the dissemination of strategic, unclassified information,” the order states. Even before this order, a number of official U.S. Army social media pages were set up on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr, intended to promote soldiers’ stories to civilians…”

Great news for all the men and women that have been wanting to actually continue their online lives while serving our country.  Apparently this order is not going to work on all Army bases, as some have classified information that they can’t risk getting out, but eventually they have plans to allow this type of thing on all bases.  We’ll see when and if that happens, but the bigger news is just that social media has had this kind of impact, on this broad of a scale.  10 years ago, would anyone have believed the U.S. Army would have a Facebook page?  Nope.

Yes Drill Sergeant! Military Goes Social Media


air-force Yesterday, my esteemed colleague talked about whether or not blogging has officially jumped the shark.  Today, we’re wondering what the term will be when it comes to Twitter and Facebook now that news is surfacing that in addition to the White House joining into the social media fray, now the U.S. Military is doing the very same thing as they’ve officially adopted not only a Facebook page, but a Twitter as well.  The most surprising, and strangely impressive thing is they are actually using Tweets to spread and deliver “hard news” to those that usually get their information online, rather than printed services.

That’s right, the U.S. Military effort in Afghanistan is actually using social media to help aid an entirely new communication effort.  When asked why the change of heart, as they famously created their very own video sharing site called TroopTube that was more secure than the conventional YouTube, the Military was actually pleasantly open about their motives.  They were quick to say that they are using both their Twitter and Facebook page to:

“engage non-traditional audiences directly with news, videos, pictures and other information from Operation Enduring Freedom…and to preempt extremist propaganda”.

Sounds good to us.  It’s just amazing to see how far the spread of both popularity and usefulness both of these services are seeing.  What started as an extremely brief way to alert those around you as to exactly what you were doing has turned into a full-blown way to not only communicate news, but also receive it as well…a fact the Military seems to be counting on, at least in a supplementary way.  Jumped the shark?  Nah, I think it’s just holding onto it’s fin and is using it to go a whole lot further, a whole lot faster.

Facebook as Terrorist Recruiting Tool?


Could this be a big ‘uh oh’ for Facebook?  For now it doesn’t look like it, but this recent bout of news does raise some questions as to exactly how Facebook is going to begin addressing some of the more questionable uses of their social networking site.

We all know they were quick to address and shut down two Holocaust groups that sprouted up on their site and were, according to Facebook, spreading hate.  The question is, how is Facebook going to go about addressing the recent news that terrorists might be using their site and service as a recruiting tool to find like-minded individuals.  Can you say Yikes?

According to news that is filtering out of the Middle East:

“Terror groups are turning to Israeli citizens on Facebook and other social networking sites and offering bribes in exchange for information, the Shin Bet [Israel Security Agency] said on Monday afternoon in a warning issued to the public.”

In addition to trying to uncover information, it appears many people that are suspected in terrorist organizations are tracking other websites and forums in which ex-soldiers frequent, trying to find people willing to divulge information or find new members.  The bottom line is, this is scary and it does raise questions about how Facebook can walk the delicate line between preserving its users privacy and not allowing itself to be used for subversive activities.

How CAN they walk this line?  It’s one thing to deny and shut down groups that are outwardly and publicly announcing their beliefs, but another story entirely when all of this is going on behind the scenes through personal messages and very quiet recruitment.  How should they address this?

Sound off…

Facebook Gives Two Holocaust Denial Groups The Boot


Looks like pressure finally got to Facebook and they did what I am sure the vast majority of people will agree, was the right thing.  Freedom of speech in this country is beyond vital.  The ability to say what we feel, when we feel it without censorship or controlling is one of the things that makes America what it is, and when issues arise that test that, you’re always going to have controversy.  Hopefully Facebooks decision today will put an end to at least some of the controversy as they seem to have their bases covered in why they removed them.

In case you’re a bit out of the loop, Facebook has been receiving pressure from outside sources after some Facebook Group Pages were created that spoke out against the Holocaust and denied it ever occured.  There were two groups in question at the heart of this controversy, “Holocaust is a Holohoax” and “Based on the facts…there was no Holocaust,” and both were removed from Facebook today as it was determined that they were violating Facebook’s Terms of Service allowing messages that spread hate on their Walls.

The issue here is, there are still many groups like this that still exist on Facebook.  According to reports:

“Despite Facebook’s decision to eliminate two Holocaust Denial groups, numerous others remain on Facebook. These groups have names like “Holocaust: A Series of Lies,” “Holocaust is a Myth,” “the holocaust that the Jewish believe in is very big lie,” “Holocaust denial & Anti-Zionism,” three different groups named “F–K Israel And Their Holocaust Bulls–t,” and “1,000,000 for the TRUTH about the Holocaust.””

Why the other groups remain might be questionable to many, but Facebook has said they have to uphold that freedom of speech and these groups, while maybe not extremely popular to many, are merely “engaging in legitimate discourse about a controversial topic.”  Until those groups “cross the line” into hatred, they will do nothing.

All of this is controversial, that much is clear, but it does raise some important questions:  How far should Freedom of Speech go with online social networking?  What should be allowed and what should not?  Isn’t the simple fact that groups exist denying one of the most devestating and tragic events in human history enough to be called hateful?  These are big questions, important questions, and they all need answers.  What do you think?

White House Dips Into Social Networking Pool


white-house Looks like the White House is going 21st century, in a very big way.  We all knew during the campaign that Obama was a bit more advanced than any other presidential candidate in history when it came to his embracing and utilizing new technology.  That trend is continuing as the White House made a fairly large announcement recently.

That’s right, the White House has officially announced that they are big-time players in the social networking world, as they now have a blog up on Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter…the big 3.  Pretty much the only question we’re all left wondering is this:  Will the President himself be tweeting?!

Here’s what the White House team had to say about their baptism into social networking:

“Technology has profoundly impacted how — and where — we all consume information and communicate with one another.”

True.  True.  It only took about 2 hours for the Twitter page to notch over 2,000 followers and at the time of this post, they’re over 38,000.  So far their updates have covered everything from swine flu to health care, to tax havens.  If you’re into the comings and goings of the U.S. Government, we suggest following.

The bottom line is, with the White House also maintaining “an active presence on Flickr, Vimeo, YouTube and iTunes…” they’re fully immersed in social media.  The question is, how will the White House respond when negativity starts popping up, after all, the internet is far from a “positive only” place.  How will the White House deal with any and all animosity on their pages?  Will freedom of speech be upheld or will the almighty censorship rear it’s ugly head?  Time will tell.

College Admissions Using Social Networking Tools


060914_college_myths2_shutterstockhmedium Think you are completely safe when it comes to what’s being posted on your social networking profiles?  Think all those photos of you or your kids that are tagged, all of those videos you or they might make little cameos in, are safe and sound and seen by no one but you?  Think again.  Turns out more people are seeing this information, even people you would not exactly want seeing some of it…think prospective employers, think college admissions.

That’s right, be afraid, be very afraid.  New reports are coming out that a growing number of college admissions around the country are turning to social networking tools to dive deeper into the candidates for admission into their schools.  Cue the great big collective *gasp* for high school seniors and their parents around the world.

The reports found that “one-fourth of colleges surveyed indicated that they used a Web search or social networking technology to locate information about prospective students.”  What’s more, it also dug up some interesting habits that pertain to social networking.  Try this on for size:

  • “More than half (53 percent) of colleges monitor social media for “buzz” about their school.”
  • “33 percent of colleges maintain a blog, 29 percent maintain a presence on social networking Web sites, 27 percent maintain message- or bulletin-boards, 19 percent use video blogging, and 14 percent issue podcasts. 39 percent of colleges surveyed reported using no social media technology.”
  • ” 88 percent of admission offices believed social media were either “somewhat” or “very” important to their future recruitment efforts”

Seems like we’re a far cry from the importance of the “Final Essay” on your application process.  Who knew that all those silly photos, videos and Wall Posts “can and will be held against you.”  Yikes.

(image via msnbc.com)

Twitter To Threaten U.S. Trials?


Twitter As services like Facebook and Twitter continue to dive deeper and deeper into our lives, it looks like there are some people out there that view the services as more of a threat than anyone previously believed.  The fact that they allow anyone, anywhere to get intimate and in-depth looks into someone else’s life is no secret about Twitter, it’s the reality that actually made the service so immediately popular.  Now, however, there are some slight concerns being raised, especially in the world of the U.S. Legal System.

That’s right, looks like so me people out there are a bit afraid that Twitter and Facebook, most specifically their ability to instantly and easily update everyone as to exactly what’s going on with a certain person, might be jeopardizing trials and legal events.  According to recent reports:

“The verdicts in two US trials are being appealed against because jurors made comments about them on social networking sites.  Defence lawyers in the two cases say postings by jurors on sites like Twitter and Facebook could be grounds for appeal.”

As you know, jurors are forbidden to discuss anything relating to the case anywhere outside the deliberation room.  By allowing Twitter and Facebook, they are able to interact directly with thousands and millions of people with the simple push of a few cell phone buttons.  Yikes.  The question is, how do we enable our court systems to work in the new world?  Traditionally they’ve been plagued with an inability to work with the “Wired World” and as we move further and further into new technology, new media and social networking, these problems will no doubt continue to surface.

The question is, how do we address it?  How can we ensure fair and impartial trials without taking technology completely out of the equation?  What do you think?  Sound off…

Join Us Friday June 20th for BlogWorld Radio Our Guest Will Be Bob Cox of the Media Bloggers Association


***Update 10:09 pm PST****

The link below now points to the archived interview Jim Turner and I conducted with Bob Cox today. A very interesting discussion and I encourage you to listen to the whole thing and share your thoughts in the comments below.

The Media Bloggers Association has posted an update here.

Join Jim Turner, me and our guest Robert Cox President of the Media Bloggers Association on BlogWorld Radio tomorrow at noon PST.

You can call in to 646-716-7047.

***Update 7:16 am June 20***

Poynter Online has a great rundown of posts concerning this controversy here.

If you haven’t heard there is a little drama going on with The Associated Press, A little blog known as The Drudge Retort ;a spoof of the famous or infamous Drudge Report as the case may be.

Very short version of the story, The AP sent several DMCA take down notices to The Drudge Retort. Some of those notices went beyond normal fair use standards. Rogers Cadenhead the publisher of The Drudge Retort complied with several of the notices and called the Media Bloggers Association for help.

Then all hell broke loose. The Blogosphere is railing against the AP. Jeff Jarvis has been very vocal. Sites like TechCrunch and Little Green Footballs are banning all AP content.

Mike Arrington and numerous others suspect a conspiracy between The AP, The NYT and The MBA.

Others are calling the MBA a flat out scam and even attacking the man at the center of this bruhaha Cadenhead.

Now some are coming to the MBA and Cox’ defense.

What is the real story? I don’t know and the truth is most folks in the Blogosphere don’t either but that doesn’t stop many from forming opinions and lynching parties.

So Join us tomorrow at noon PST on BlogWorld Radio where we hope to get the MBA’s side of the story from Robert Cox. Please call in 646-716-7047 and give us your take or leave a comment below if you have any questions you would like us to ask.

Bloggers Should Not Take Free Speech For Granted


There are few things people agree on in the Blogosphere. In fact the debate and discourse are arguably the most compelling thing about the Blogosphere. Anyone can say just about anything they want and they can say it without fear of prosecution and in most cases for free.

Well not everyone. Per the BBC Today:

More bloggers than ever face arrest for exposing human rights abuses or criticising governments, says a report.

In 2007 three times as many people were arrested for blogging about political issues than in 2006, it revealed.

More than half of all the arrests since 2003 have been made in China, Egypt and Iran, said the report.

It goes on:

Arrested bloggers exposed corruption in government, abuse of human rights or suppression of protests. They criticised public policies and took political figures to task.

More than half of all the arrests since 2003 have been made in China, Egypt and Iran, said the report.

For instance, it said the Committee to Protect Bloggers has published information about 344 people arrested in Burma – many of whom are thought to be be bloggers – but the WIA could not verify all the reports.

It also noted that many nations, perhaps as many as 30, imposed technological restrictions on what people can do online. In nations such as China this made it difficult for people to use a blog as a means of protest.

This report doesn’t mention even mention the severe free speech restrictions in Canada and most of Western Europe.  The next time you find yourself ranting about your congressman, senator, or local mayor; The next time you do a Google search for “human rights abuses in China” thank your lucky stars that you are free to do so.

More than that be mindful of your responsibility to maintain those freedoms for all of us and use a power that we as citizens have never had before in all of human history to help spread these freedoms to bloggers in countries like China, Burma, Iran, and Egypt.


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