Search Engine Manipulation – or is it First Amendment Manipulation?

Is Google violating a company’s First Amendment rights when they block the company from search results if Google believes the company is engaging in search engine manipulation?

Google’s definitions of search engine optimization and search engine manipulation are similar and vague, but if it is true that search engine manipulation applies to spam with fraudulent intent, then Google is preventing criminal behavior (CAN-SPAM Act), not engaging in it. Google, its lawyers, and (ultimately) Judge Paul Magnuson argue that Google has the right to choose which results to display and in which order, just as an editor of a newspaper or magazine can choose which stories to publish and which ones to put on the front page. Some also argue that since Google is a private company, the question of First Amendment rights is irrelevant. Blocked companies aren’t being prosecuted or restricted by the government and therefore their rights are not being infringed upon.

However, if Google is, for some reason, unfairly using their search engine manipulation rules to prevent a company’s message from showing up in search results, then Google is infringing on that company’s First Amendment rights of freedom of speech. Google doesn’t get to pick and choose who gets to spread messages without a legal reason. Although there are other search engines, Google is by far the most widely used. With how widespread the internet now is, many people rely almost exclusively on Google for access to information. If Google blocks that access, a company may lose its only viable way of expressing that information. Likewise, you could argue that Google is infringing your First Amendment rights by denying you access to accurate information.

As many directions as this can be argued, courts tend to side with Google in recent years.

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Does Fake-Lynching a President Fall Within A Person’s Freedom of Speech?

On October 29th, 2016, during a UW-Madison football game at Camp Randall, there was a man found wearing a costume acting like Barack Obama was being lynched. One man wearing a prisoner outfit and a Barack Obama mask on his face, a Hillary Clinton mask on the back of his head, and a noose around his neck. The other man involved, worse normal clothes with a Donald Trump Mask on. This man was seen holding the noose up that was on the other man’s neck. The assimilated the lynching of both Clinton and Obama. In terms of this being within the two men’s freedom’s of speech and expression, it is. The only thing that is illegal to do under the context of the president is to say something. There is nothing about acting out a President’s death. Someone is not allowed to say “I want to kill the President” or “Someone should kill the President”. Doing what these men did is highly offensive, but is within their rights. The one way this could be pushed to fall outside the lines of freedom of speech is obscenity. This states that  “any utterance or act that strongly offends the prevalent morality of the time”. Meaning, if this offended the majority of the stadium, then this act can be considered outside the boundaries of freedom of speech and expression.

Definitions

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Hindrance of Speech

     There are hundreds of thousands who are desperate to see a change in the way they believe others are mistreating America’s First Amendment, Freedom of Speech. For example there are several students that have spoken out from The University of California, Berkeley. William Veroski had this to say: “I believe in court rulings on the matter of free speech, since the university is a public institution. Therefore such things as inciting direct violence should not be allowed, but things such as hate speech should be protected under First Amendment rights.” This amendment is undoubtedly one of the most important in our constitution, and I can see many ways it could be taken for granted.

     It is my opinion that the borders of one’s free speech privileges become visible when they are limited to unreasonable measurements. Take this situation for example: “Kevin Shaw, a student studying philosophy and political science at Pierce College in Los Angeles, was stopped by a school official when he was handing out copies of the U.S. Constitution on campus.  He said he was told only allowed to do so in the “free-speech zone” on campus — 616 square feet of the school’s 426 acres — and would need a permit.” I believe this is a ridiculous accusation, and is not worth all the argument. Don’t get me wrong, but I believe that too much restriction was placed upon Mr. Shaw in this instance.

     To conclude, the question remains: “So where does one’s freedom of speech need to be restricted?” I believe that the only way to decide where the lines are drawn is to look at each story, examine the evidence, and constitutionalize to the best of our ability. Otherwise we will begin to slip farther and farther away from the strong and prosperous ways of our forefathers; the ones who built and formed the States into what they are today.

Does Limiting Religious Activity at School Limit Our Right To Free Speech?

Freedom of speech is arguably one of the most valued amendments for many Americans, as it separates us from many other countries in the way that we are able to speak our minds however we choose. However, there are many places where our freedom of speech is greatly restricted, a main place being our own public schools.

A Pennsylvania high school football team’s 40 year old tradition has been deemed illegal by the supreme court.  For over 40 years, Dunmore High School’s football team has spent a moment in prayer before each game. However an out-of-state organization has been weighing in and informing them that their tradition is illegal. The Freedom From Religion Foundation notified the school that public schools can not engage in religious activities such as prayer in school or at school sponsored events, such as football games.

Does limiting religious activities at schools limit our right to free speech? The supreme court states that, “Students have the right to pray individually, or in groups, or to discuss their religious views with their peers so long as they are not disruptive”. However school officials may not mandate or organize prayer, so hosting prayer at a school sponsored event is a constitutional violation. The players are therefore free to pray among themselves as long as they do not disturb others, but their coach is not allowed to partake. Because schools are not considered public forums, those who work for the school must be sure not to take sides on anything political or religious as to not sway the views of their students. The goal of this restriction of freedom of speech is not to limit students freedom or to repress them from participating in religious activities, it is to protect students from being persuaded by the views of their teachers, coaches and other school workers. Therefore public schools do not restrict the freedom of speech for those attending, but freedom of speech is restricted for those who are employed by the school.

 

Works Cited

NCAC Staff (July 10, 2013. ) The First Amendment In Schools : A Public Guide retrieved from http://ncac.org/resource/first-amendment-in-schools#firstamendpublicschools

ACLU Staff. Joint Statement of Current Law on Religion in the Public Schools https://www.aclu.org/other/joint-statement-current-law-religion-public-schools

FFRF Staff ( September 21, 2017 ) FFRF ensures religion-free Ala. football games https://ffrf.org/news/news-releases/item/30327-ffrf-ensures-religion-free-ala-football-games

 

How Far Can Satire Go

Many people use satire to express and exaggerate points and ideas, people may use it for humor. This can cause an unwanted focus of negative attention to the person getting targeted. This brings the question of is there a line between satire and libel. People argue that satire is a way to humor and criticize people, the news, and the government. Which is protected under the First Amendment, but can this go too far. One Example of this happening is Hustler Magazine, Inc. et al. v. Jerry FalwellIn this court case the company Hustler Magazine known for there pornography magazine started to put inappropriate ads of Jerry Falwell a well respected public preacher in there magazine. These Ads of him would include pictures of Jerry having drunk sexual encounters with mother and also other men. Obviously people knew this was not true but Jerry Falwell felt as if he and his career were getting targeted. Jerry Falwell tried suing  Hustler Magazine but didn’t get anything out of it.  One way that satire is acceptable is when it is being used in the right way. You may be thinking that there is no “right way” to use satire but I believe that when it is used to target someone and push humor to someone that is irrelevant just hurts someones image, spreading fake news in a way. Talk show comedians such as Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Trevor Noah are excerpts in using satire to make there shows knowledgeable and entertaining. They do a good job of taking a topic that the public is familiar with, or explaining news that is currently happening so that everyone is on the same page for the joke. Then they will make fun of the topic by over exaggerating it and adding many sarcastic comments. What I like about these comedians is that they don’t make jokes at overly sensitive topics, and will let you know when they are being serious. This makes is so that there is no confusion they are making fun of something they shouldn’t have. This way of bringing news in an entertaining way has had a giant impact on how we perceive the news. Overall Using satire is a great way to lighten up topics and make jokes, but this humor needs to be obvious and appropriate. Because if you are not clear your words might be perceived and something else.

Works Cited:

N.a. “Freedom of Speech – Why Satire is Protected – HG.org.” Hg.org. n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2018. <https://www.hg.org/article.asp?id=34438&gt;

N.a. “Parody & satire.” Newseuminstitute.org. n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2018. <http://www.newseuminstitute.org/first-amendment-center/topics/freedom-of-speech-2/arts-first-amendment-overview/parody-satire/&gt;

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong. “How Jon Stewart changed the world.” Bbc.com. n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2018. <http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20150806-how-jon-stewart-changed-the-world&gt;

Offensive Speech in Universities

When can universities censor students without violating free speech and the First Amendment?

Universities have always had a set of standards separate from the outside world. What might be acceptable on the streets could land a student in Dean of Students’ office. For example, flipping another driver off as he/she cuts you off does not have any repercussions and is actually seen quite often. On the other hand, a student giving their teacher the bird for not bumping their grade up will almost certainly result in consequences. Universities are allowed to do this without violating freedom of expression because they have a different set of community standards. Classrooms are a place for education and not much else, so something offensive that lies outside of this realm could be considered an obscenity. If it is preventing students from successfully learning, then the phrase or expression is obscene. The outside world does that not have this standard because it is solely devoted to learning. However, lately universities all around the country have been censoring a little too much.

A study done by Spiked Magazine released a ranking for schools in the UK highlighting which universities censored free speech the most. The report revealed that a majority of schools has “banned and actively censored” students’ free speech. In addition, Tom Slater, an editor for Spiked Magazine, revealed what some of the schools are banning. One school, he said, “Banned sombreros, and other such ‘racist’ attire”. Even groups centered around controversial debates such as abortion have been banned on campus, and students are upset. Many feel as though their freedom of speech has been violated by their universities. Although some opinions and words might be offensive, a lot of what universities censor can be used as an educational opportunity. One said that he is a “firm believer that the best way to challenge an idea is to discuss”. Universities are a place to learn not censor.

Although certain actions or words do need to be censored in the classroom, universities should not be censoring anything that seems mildly offensive. As long as it does not prevent students from learning successfully, it should not be banned. Just because something is offensive, does not mean it can not be discussed professionally and educationally. By toning down the amount of censorship, students might even be able to understand each other more effectively and create better environments within the school.

Works Cited:

“The suppression of free speech on university campuses is reaching epidemic levels; It’s easy to laugh at students who try to ban sombreros or applause, but new free speech rankings show how their censorious megalomania is getting out of hand.” Telegraph Online, 3 Feb. 2015. Student Resources in Context, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A400023226/SUIC?u=mono131514&xid=48fd105e. Accessed 14 Feb. 2018.

“‘Why I’m no longer looking forward to university’; Supression of free speech has transformed universities into a much less exciting prospect for sixth form students, writes Carl du Jeu.” Telegraph Online, 24 July 2015. Student Resources in Context, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/A423008194/SUIC?u=mono131514&xid=ee9f24f6. Accessed 14 Feb. 2018.

 

Facebook and Fighting Words

 

During the summer of 2016, Facebook was under fire by the German government for failing to disclose information that could have helped prevent terror attacks. Terrorists often use Facebook and other social media to plan attacks and to communicate with fellow terrorists. However, social media sites do not always turn this information over to authorities. This brings up the question of whether threatening to carry out a terror attack or another violent act is protected by the first amendment.

Words that incite violence or place the targets in harm’s way are known as fighting words. The court case that established the status of fighting words in regard to the first amendment is called Chaplinsky vs New Hampshire. In 1940, Walter Chaplinsky, a devout Jehovah’s Witness, was distributing religious texts and speaking publicly when a group of people objected. The group went to James Bowering, the city marshall, with their complaints. Bowering told the group that Chaplinsky was acting lawfully. After Bowering left, the mob proceeded to beat Chaplinsky. Chaplinsky then went to the police station and, upon seeing Bowering, called him a “God damned racketeer” and a “damned fascist.” He was then arrested. Chaplinsky brought his case up the levels of the court system, losing each time. Eventually he reached the supreme court. Justice Frank Murphy wrote the decision saying:

“There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which  have never been thought to raise any Constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or ‘fighting’ words — those which by their utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.”

Thus withholding Chaplinsky’s conviction and creating the “Fighting Words Doctrine.”¹

This decision has never been overridden and is still cited in many state court cases. So the question is: does the fighting words doctrine apply to comments and discussions on social media. A big part of this discussion is whether social media figures are responsible for the violence of their audiences if that violence is a result of something they said or posted online. One such incident is the Terry Jones incident. In 2010, a pastor from Florida posted on social media that his congregation would hold a Quran burning ceremony on september 11 of that year. His post gained widespread media coverage and pleas from many government officials including president Obama and secretary of state Clinton to not go ahead with the ceremony. They claimed that it would result in protests and violence in the Middle East. Jones postponed the ceremony, but carried it out six months later and posted it to Facebook. The post resulted in widespread protests in the Middle East and 30 deaths.² This incident appears to clearly fit into the Fighting Words Doctrine which states that words unprotected by the 1st amendment include “those [words] which by their utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.” Jones was obviously aware that his actions would result in violence, yet he carried them out anyway. His actions and words directly resulted in a breach in the peace and thus should not be protected by the first amendment.

In conclusion, the speech of terrorists on Facebook should not be protected by the First Amendment. The speech led to immediate breach of the peace and could influence others to commit similar acts.

 

Works Cited

1 Hudson, David L. Fighting Words Case Still Making Waves in First Amendment Jurisprudence. http://www.newseuminstitute.org, March 9, 2012. Web.

2 Lidsky, Lyrissa B. Incendiary Speech and Social Media. University of Florida Levin College of Law, January 1, 2012. Web.

“Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as public liberty, without freedom of speech.” ~Benjamin Franklin, writing as Silence Dogood