Category Archives: Freedom of the Press

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 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;

Can Twitter or Facebook control fake news on their websites under the 1st amendment?

In the last year, we have never had such a problem with this thing called ‘Fake News’. Our president is one of the many people that are bothered by it in today’s society. But is there a way to control this nonsense that people read? Or are these “stories” protected under the 1st amendment? I’m here to tell you why these ‘Fake News’ stories can not be controlled under the 1st amendment.

Many social media outlets are trying to control the spread of fake news. According to Fortune.com, facebook has made updates in their system that shifts the balance of news you see towards sources that are determined to be trusted by the community.(1) one of Biggest Issues in the fake news debate is foreign involvement. Russia has been linked to influencing US elections and false or misleading stories according to CNN.(2) But by the time it’s out on the internet, the story can be shared all over. And with the 1st amendment and more specifically freedom of the press, the story or statements don’t need to be exactly true. The statement cannot be harmful to the person’s life or that would be slander and then not protected by the 1st amendment. There is a fine line that people have to walk on when reading these fake news sites or social media because you can’t trust everything you see.

Should any book be banned from access in libraries just for the fact that the ideas behind them are controversial?

Within our society and as people with many different points of view often times we want our own thought to be understood by everyone else. Although, at times debate and discussion are less emphasized and more focused on the simple desire to force others to conform to the same ideas as our own. This can be seen in instances like schools where they are deciding if they should listen to the angry parents and ban Harry Potter, a notable book, for being related to wizardry and satanism. So, we have to wonder, should we ban any books that might have some controversy with how we want to raise our children?
Is silencing the voice of the writer and practically stripping them of their first amendment right? Nytimes raises one question to the issue. How do the students feel about books being banned? After All, the students are the ones that will be reading the books not the parents, so shouldn’t the students be able to decide what they want to read? For the most part, students answered the question like Erin, an 18 year old in highschool, did by stating “The world is huge, and diverse. Books, whether fiction or nonfiction, open a little part of that world to us. …I think the books helped me to grow up, to learn about the world”. On the other hand how are we to know if the kids are ready to read some books that might require a little bit more maturity or context. We can’t just throw 4th graders into a translated version of Mein Kampf. Thoughtco thnks the answer is just providing a supporting hand if the students need it, like the introduction to the use of the N word in older literature. PBS sees every book as a learning experience and any book that is banned for sensitive material is simply avoiding the problem. Learning new information along with the context in which it is delivered will help us grow as individuals and come to better ideas. Justice Louis D. Brandeis would agree with the fact of having no books banned as seen by a famous case of Whitney vs. California Justice where he stated
*377 “Those who won our independence by revolution were not cowards. They did not fear political change. They did not exalt order at the cost of liberty. To courageous, self-reliant men, with confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning applied through the processes of popular government, no danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present, unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion. If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”
In essence stating that free speech should be protected and if some things may not sound right, then we can talk to change it. In the end, books are meant for spreading ideas in a way that can sometimes be easier than speeches or other sources. Why not use them as tools for learning and enlightenment?

 

Works Cites:
“What To Teach Students About Censorship And Book Banning In America.” ThoughtCo. N. p., 2018. Web. 20 Feb. 2018.
Whitney v. California [1927] 274 U.S. 357 No. 3 (Supreme Court of United States)
Schulten, Katherine. “Are There Books That Should Be Banned From Your School Library?.” The Learning Network. N. p., 1285. Web. 20 Feb. 2018.
Strum, Lora, and Lora Strum. “Banning Books Like ’13 Reasons Why’ Makes It Harder For Teens To Open Up To Adults, Author Says.” PBS NewsHour. N. p., 2017. Web. 20 Feb. 2018.

How Far Can Satire Go Before Becoming Libel?

There are many sources of satire in media today that come in a variety of different forms, from articles to television.  Two very popular sources are, The Onion, and Saturday Night Live. Both of these sources poke fun at a wide variety of topics, and no one is safe from the humor that they bring about. However, how far are they able to go before their statements turn into libel? Satire falls under the topic of “Fair Use” and therefore allows copyrighted works to be parodied. An ex-CTO of The Onion explains,” The Onion’s office walls are filled with letters from companies expressing delight in being satirized, not because they love it but because they cannot fight comedy. You can only defeat comedy by being funnier.”(1)  SNL uses satire in the parodies that they make about companies, products, and people. Stanford Copyright & Fair Use Center states, that Parodies are allowed to use more original context because they need lots of the original work in order to make a parody.

Satire can never be taken to far; it is a problem when it isn’t taken far enough. If something like a business is being ridiculed and the statement goes above and beyond to point out their every fault in an attempt to get people to laugh, that is better than it being similar to an actual representation of the business. If people are starting to believe that the statement is an actual, realistic model of the company, then it becomes a problem because it is turning into a defamatory statement. If people are going to believe a somewhat ridiculous statement, they should take the source of the statement into account. If the statement is coming from a show like SNL or is in an article by the onion, these statements should not be taken seriously at all. Sources that do not have a history of satire could be taken for libel. However, SNL and The Onion have a long history of satire, and therefore should not be taken seriously. When it comes down to deciding, could it be mistaken for a real model, or where is the statement coming from, are the two biggest factors that set the boundary between satire and libel.

 

Does Banning Books Violate One’s First Amendment Right?

When it comes to banning books, many schools are continuing to ban more and more books. Though there may be fair reasoning to have some of these books banned, it can go against freedom of press, making banning books unjust, unless it is an obscenity. I believe some books that are banned are clearly meet the limit of being an obscenity, but sometimes they it really doesn’t meet the definition. Cornell law describes an obscenity laws as,prohibiting lewd, filthy, or disgusting words or pictures,” but they also mention, “Indecent materials or depictions, normally speech or artistic expressions, may be restricted in terms of time, place, and manner, but are still protected by the First Amendment.” Books like Harry Potter and Where’s Waldo really have no, just reason to be banned, especially when you tie it with definition. This violates the freedom of the press because you are prohibiting authors of their right to freedom of the press for no reason. But, I do believe there are certain cases where it is best to ban a book.

Only some books should be banned, only when they follow this definition of obscenity, and it isn’t appropriate for the age group reading it. Having read several books on the “Banned Book List” I know that some books on that list have no reason to be on there, but others are best to be deemed “okay” to have in schools base off of age, making it fair for them to be banned. When it comes to books such as The Color Purple and To Kill a Mockingbird, banning them or not should probably fluctuate based on age. Even though it isn’t discussed in the constitution or seen as a limit, there can be fair arguments for not wanting certain ages to read certain books. In the book The Color Purple, right away in the book there is a graphic rape described. As the rest of the book continues, there is a lot of important historical context and lessons that happen throughout, making it important for someone to read, but with the graphic rape in the beginning, and a few more scenes throughout, it’s best to put an age restriction on it because you don’t want someone reading it at a young age, making the definition of obscenity fluctuate based on age. Though I think To Kill a Mockingbird should not be banned, due to its high use of the “n word”, some disagree. In no way am I condoning the “n word”, but I believe it’s an important, and dark part of our history that shouldn’t be forgotten, but something we are taught, and we learn from. To Kill a Mockingbird does this in a way that describes life during that time, and someone can actually learn through a fictional story, vs. out of a textbook, what life was like. Having people in elementary and middle school read it, can be deemed worthy needing it to be banned because they don’t understand the time as well, but people in high school are almost adults, and need to learn about that part of history in a further context, and they should understand the context of that word, raising the argument that obscenities definition should fluctuate based on the age reading the book. When it comes to freedom of press, there are certain limits to it, and sometimes those limits vary, based on certain factors. Books are a learning tool for all who read them, and when it comes to banning them or not, books should not be banned unless it’s deemed an obscenity for the age group reading it, not because of personal reasons in order to follow The Constitution, the highest law of the land.

Sources

“Banned & Challenged Classics.” Advocacy, Legislation & Issues. N. p., 2013. Web. 15 Feb. 2018

“Obscenity.” LII / Legal Information Institute. N. p., 2018. Web. 12 Feb. 2018.