How can you be more civic-minded in 2019?

How can you be more civic-minded in 2019?

31067002 - portrait of kitchen staff in homeless shelterThe dictionary definition of civic-mindedness refers to the “actions, activities or individuals that are motivated by or that show concern for the public good or humanity as a whole.” In other words, a civic-minded person is willing to participate in activities that benefit their communities, such as volunteering, donating, and/or speaking out about issues and causes they’re passionate about.

After an incredibly divisive year of hyper-polarized political discourse, skyrocketing rates of harassment and violence against journalists, and the distortion of reality through “fake news” and inflammatory rhetoric, we’d like to ask all First Amendment Voice members and supporters to join us in rebuilding a sense of national unity through small acts of civic-minded kindness in their communities. If you’re onboard with making America kind again, then here are some of the many ways you can be more civic-minded in the new year:

Use Your Voice

As we discussed at our National Symposium in 2018, your voice matters! Whether this involves spreading the word about an important cause in your community or gathering support for political organizations via social media, there is no limit on the number of ways you can use your voice as a platform promoting respect and kindness towards all Americans.

Perhaps you could also constructively engage in controversial discussions by researching different perspectives from credible sources beforehand, learning more about logical fallacies, and being willing to listen to arguments and individuals you disagree with, rather than talking over them or refusing to engage simply because you have different perspectives.

Volunteer for a Cause You Care About

What are you truly passionate about? For instance, are you concerned about the state of press freedoms in the U.S. and abroad? Are you worried about the future of freedom of expression online? Or what about other causes with significant consequences (and public controversies), such as climate change, gun control, public health, and affordable housing?

No matter what your favorite causes may be, there are always opportunities for civic-minded individuals to get more involved in advocacy efforts through volunteering. If you’ve volunteered on and off for an organization or two in the past, then make this the year in which you commit to regularly volunteering for a nonprofit that aligns with your activist goals and ideals for American society.

Donate to Those Who Truly Need It

If you’re too busy with work and family obligations to volunteer more often, then consider contributing financially instead. There are so many worthy causes that deserve more funding to continue their ongoing efforts to improve the lives of less-fortunate individuals in your local community, as well as helping certain groups on the national level.

If First Amendment freedoms are also important to you, then consider donating to First Amendment Voice to help us protect our most treasured Constitutional rights in 2019 and beyond.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and the First Amendment

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and the First Amendment

43733320_SHow many options do you have when it comes to choosing an Internet service provider (ISP) for your home? If you’re like millions of Americans, you might only have access to one ISP. Or perhaps you have the option of 2 ISPs offering slow Internet speeds; the FCC’s own research has found that 55% of developed census blocks have no providers offering 100 Mbps internet speeds.

If you’ve followed the debate over net neutrality laws over the past year, then you likely already know that ISPs and the services they provide consumers are deeply intertwined with the First Amendment. What you might not know is that many of the prominent arguments coming out recently are in favor of the Internet service providers’ free speech rights, which are often viewed as conflicting with citizens’ free speech rights.

To give you a refresher on the current situation, let’s examine how the First Amendment impacts business operations and public perceptions surrounding ISPs:

ISP Monopolies

As mentioned previously, millions of Americans only have access to one ISP in their area. This effectively creates a monopoly, as Internet access has become an essential household necessity, and only one company is available to provide that service in countless communities across the U.S.

Why is a monopoly necessarily bad? ISPs have a long history of attempting to block consumers from accessing certain websites and slowing down Internet speeds when consumers try streaming video content from services like Netflix, Hulu and HBO.

Net neutrality laws classified Internet services as Title II public utilities and forbade ISPs from prioritizing certain websites over others. Without those laws, consumers are increasingly unable to readily access content from their favorite websites because ISPs are now in control over how fast webpages load (if they load at all). Prominent individuals like Justice Kavanaugh have consistently argued against net neutrality on the basis that it presumably violates ISPs rights to freedom of expression, but what about consumers’ First Amendment rights?

Community-Owned ISPs

The battle of net neutrality may not end any time soon, but there’s another battle happening in the world of American ISPs right now: The rise of government-owned and operated ISPs. The FCC commissioner recently argued that community-owned broadband services represent a threat to free speech rights in the U.S., but several research studies have shown that community broadband is typically cheaper and more reliable than commercial ISPs, so how is this a loss for consumers?

The debates over net neutrality and community vs. commercial ISPs are far from over, but at the end of the day it’s important to ask ourselves this crucial question: When in conflict, should we be more concerned with for-profit Internet service providers’ rights to freedom of speech or American citizens/Internet users’ rights to freedom of speech?

What does Khashoggi’s death mean for global freedom of the press?

What does Khashoggi’s death mean for global freedom of the press?

55773869 - two candles in the darkJamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post reporter who focused a great deal of his work on the Middle East (and Saudi Arabia in particular), was recently killed in the line of his journalistic duties. However, media explanations and political narratives surrounding his death have created a great deal of confusion both in the U.S. and abroad.

Regardless of how this situation concludes, a serious implication has emerged from what increasingly referred to as a scandal: the freedom of the press is even less “free” than we previously assumed, particularly when a well-known journalist reporting for an internationally-recognized news organization faces the same, unfortunate demise as hundreds of other dissident publishers in countries around the world.

Khashoggi’s death ought to be a somber reminder to citizens around the world that the practices of kidnapping, torturing and killing journalists are not exclusive to small countries with authoritarian regimes. Violence against journalists is increasingly commonplace in today’s society, and without these media gatekeepers holding power accountable (because they’re literally dying for doing this crucial job), who else will hold our political leaders responsible to citizens?

What other implications does Khashoggi’s death hold for the future of the free press in the U.S. and abroad? Let’s unpack what’s happening in the status quo:

Journalists Are in Danger

Between 1992 and 2018, over 1,320 journalists worldwide have been killed while on the job, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. While some of these deaths involved journalists reporting from dangerous regions, some, like Khashoggi, have been murdered by people who [violently] disagree with the subject matters and angles these journalists write about.

It doesn’t help matters that President Trump recently praised a politician for body-slamming a journalist in Montana. During a time when harassment (physical and digital) and violence against journalists is on the rise, it’s imperative that citizens remain committed to civil, nonviolent discourse instead of encouraging and even applauding acts of physical violence against those with whom they disagree.

We Must Protect Our Free Press

Kashshoggi’s death does not have to spell doom for the future of the free press in the U.S. and abroad. As tragic as this event was, it also serves as an important reminder to the public that we must reinforce respect for the free press, both at home and abroad. Even when we disagree with or feel offended by something published by a reporter and/or news organization, harassment and violence is never the answer – rational discourse and a mindset of “let’s agree to disagree” are paramount.

To uphold our First Amendment freedoms – for everyday citizens and hardworking journalists alike – visit our website to learn more about what we’re doing to preserve First Amendment right for all.

Does the First Amendment apply to high school newspapers?

Does the First Amendment apply to high school newspapers?

85339570_MAccording to the Student Press Law Center, a 1969 Supreme Court decision contended that, “it can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional right to freedom of speech at the schoolhouse gate.” Since this proclamation was made, there have nevertheless remained many obstacles for student journalists in high schools across the U.S.

In some cases, the administrators prevail due to First Amendment exemptions for private schools, as the law may only prohibit public school officials from suppressing students’ free speech and press freedoms. School-sponsored publications may also be subjected to censorship in some cases, but it varies from situation to situation.

Do you believe the First Amendment should apply equally to student journalists at the high school level as it does to professional journalists? Let’s explore what’s going on in the status quo:

Legal Precedents

In 1988, the Supreme Court’s Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier decision allowed administrators to censor some school-sponsored content at their own discretion. For instance, school yearbooks have been subjected to censorship practices with the justification that they are “non-public forums,” and thus, not protected by the First Amendment.

Compared to student journalists at public colleges and universities, high school student journalists ultimately have fewer legal protections and face significantly more censorship when they attempt to publish potentially controversial material in their school newspapers and other publications.

Attempts to Limit Student Reporting Efforts

There have been many attempts by administrators to completely censor, alter or restrict high school journalists’ reporting efforts. For example, high schoolers in Vermont recently fought for their First Amendment freedoms when an interim principal tried to censor a report about a guidance counselor who had falsified student transcripts, intimidated employees, and revealed a student’s private information to another party without the student’s prior knowledge and consent.

This is just one of many instances of administrators trying to prevent their students from engaging in their First Amendment freedoms. Do you believe that high schoolers should have the same free press rights as their professional counterparts? The legal battles are far from over, but time and politics will determine if youth ought to have equal access to their First Amendment rights as adult journalists do.

Fake news and the First Amendment

Fake news and the First Amendment

40943266_MWhy does “fake news” get so much attention in the press these days? Tabloids and media rumors have been around for centuries, but the spread of “fake news” is a relatively recent phenomenon that has become a serious problem thanks to the instantaneous sharing capabilities of email, texts and social media.

Is “fake news” as big a threat to our First Amendment freedoms as some people proclaim it to be? Let’s unpack the potential implications:

Freedom of the Press

During a time when newspapers and other media organizations are struggling to stay afloat financially, it’s increasingly concerning to witness how fake news stories with clickbait headlines are getting more engagement and shares on social media than legitimate news stories. This poses a serious threat to the freedom of the press clause in the First Amendment because fake news stories distort public perceptions about real-life events, which has led to problematic consequences such as:

  • Increased public distrust of media organizations
  • Lower subscription rates for credible news outlets
  • Higher rates of censorship, harassment and even violence against journalists
  • Alarming incidents of people acting upon fake news stories, such as the infamous “Pizzagate” scandal

Unfounded “Fake News” Accusations

Another major concern related to fake news and the First Amendment is the prominence of politicians, corporate executives, and other societal leaders referring to news stories they disagree with as “fake news,” regardless of the truthful nature of the story in question. By dismissing unfavorable news stories as “fake,” these individuals — many of whom have large followings on social media and in real life — are contributing to negative public sentiment towards journalists and media organizations.

Furthermore, discrediting news stories and/or organizations by labeling them as “fake” is making it increasingly difficult for members of society to discern between fact, “alternative facts,” and fiction. This only furthers public mistrust in otherwise highly credible news outlets and allows an individual’s persuasiveness to outweigh factual reporting published by diligent journalists.

To help combat the growing issue of fake news in our society, be sure to read through FactCheck.org’s guidelines for detecting fake news stories before sharing a questionable news story on social media or dismissing something you disagree with as “fake news.”