Category Archives: Uncategorized

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

Info 1

Info 2

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.

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.

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.

Terrorism in Social Media

In July, 2016, Germany faced a wave of terrorist attacks. These attacks had connections to various posts on Facebook. The German government stated that they believed it was Facebook’s responsibility to turn over any information on future or past attacks. Later the following year, on Oct. 31, an Uzbek immigrant drove a truck into the sidewalks of Manhattan, killing 8 people. When he was detained, the New York Police found over 90 ISIS propaganda videos to which he clearly admitted to taking inspiration from. The question is, should social media sites have to legally turn over their user’s information if it implies a future attack or if it could shed light on an investigation for a past attack. And if not, should these sites be held culpable for these attacks to some extent. 

Some U.S. officials urge social media sites to work toward terrorism prevention. Joe Lieberman, a former Congress member, demanded that social media sites shouldn’t let terrorists have access to their sites at all, and believes that the internet is a primary force in the spread of terrorism. In 2012, Twitter announced a change to their censorship policy, stating that they are going to begin censoring tweets that break the law in your local area. They gave the following statement :

“… Starting today, we give ourselves the ability to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country — while keeping it available in the rest of the world. We have also built in a way to communicate transparently to users when content is withheld, and why.”

Many people responded negatively to this, arguing that this was a violation of free speech. Some even threatened to stop tweeting if they didn’t repeal this clause.

There are various good and bad things that can come of actions such as this one. Yes, it is possible that this would lessen terrorist attacks. Yes, it could lessen hate speech. Yes, it could make the world a better place. But at what cost. Some say that this is a slippery slope to walk on. Once the public believes its ok to silence an opinion, who’s to say the government doesn’t silence another groups beliefs, maybe even yours. Is it worth possibly giving up your own freedom? What do they say? A bird in the hand is worth two in a bush.