Using social tools to fight the CPSIA
Posted by: John Tozzi on January 12, 2009
Thanks to those of you I’ve heard from in response to Friday’s post on the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. (This is the law that people who make hand made children’s toys and clothes say threatens to put them out of business because of the cost of testing products for lead.)
What I’m stunned by is the scale of the grassroots effort online to get regulators to implement the law in a way that’s fair to small producers. For example, the Flickr album of endangered toys, a well-populated Ning forum, active Twitter conversations, and on and on. This has resulted in a flood of stories in the press, one clarification from regulators so far, and what I can only guess is thousands (tens of thousands?) of letters and calls putting pressure on elected officials and regulators to consider this constituency’s interest when implementing this law.
This is exactly what Clay Shirky means by organizing without organizations. There’s no trade group on K Street lobbying for people who make kids’ toys out of their homes and sell them on Etsy. But they suddenly have a big voice in this debate.
The effect is amplified because these particular small business owners are already quite wired. Platforms like Etsy and eBay, as well as marketing on blogs and social networks, enable many more people to make a living selling handcrafted goods in small batches than was possible 15 years ago. These entrepreneurs adeptly put online social tools to use in this campaign because they built successful businesses with the same social tools.
I’m still working on this piece, and I hope to deliver something different to add value to the growing number of reports on the CPSIA. So, what questions should I ask the Consumer Products Safety Commission? How would you implement this law in a way that balances concerns over lead in toys with the ability for small producers to test and certify their products? Whose voice isn’t being heard in this discussion? Weigh in as always in comments, emails, Twitter.