April 2019 Newsletter

April 2019 Newsletter

Back in September at the 3rd Annual First Amendment Voice National Symposium in Philadelphia, I met Gary Ell. Gary got inspired during our programming and wanted to get involved. He wasn’t sure how, but after some thought, he had an idea. Here is the story in his own words:

The world has become vehemently divided. Nearly every segment of society has been afflicted through division. We are divided by culture, gender, education, race, religion and political polarization that hinders governance. The 2016 U.S. Presidential Elections created a funnel that has encapsulated the USA and left me feeling divided, exhausted and fearful. As a Professional Photojournalist “sometimes” covering politics, my social media accounts were targeted and trolled. I shared an image on Facebook of my 10 y/o daughter holding a Hillary sign during the 2016 Democratic National Convention. She was so excited to attend the event and show her support of “Girl Power” as many young girls did. I taught my daughter that she can dream big and achieve great things. She believed in this candidate. The trolls did not! She was lambasted for holding that sign and believing in this female candidate. I was deeply disturbed and disgusted. This was my first-hand account of where society was spiraling.

A fire was ignited when I attended the First Amendment Voice Symposium in Philadelphia, P.A. in September 2018. FAV is a non-profit that serves to invigorate citizens to understand and exercise first amendment rights through a collaborative campaign of education and advocacy. I left the symposium feeling a need to “help” society. As a Photographer and Curator for a popular photography hub on Instagram, I had a voice and a platform. By unifying with six other popular photo hubs, we had a combined following of several million followers. We all were in agreement that we have a responsibility as Artists to address the important issues that are dividing the world and solve them visually. We felt that the theme of Unity/Division could help heal a deeply divided society, so we launched the challenge in January 2019.

What did we learn?
The submissions addressed the divisions more than the unity and that was ok. The challenge was like the current pulse of humanity and we don’t necessarily have the answers. It’s like what people feel right now; divided, alone and afraid. We tapped into something, a need that people feel they have to express. That’s what the challenge was about – Encouraging people to conquer the fear of expression or the feeling that their voice doesn’t matter.

Gary exemplifies the effect we try to have with FAV programming. We seek speakers and community leaders who inspire us all to #FindOurVoice and contribute to the public conversation, whether through art, like Gary, or by the multitude of other ways to contribute – the school board, PTA, university, church, synagogue, mosque, city council meeting, and other community organizations. We each have individual talents and a unique “voice.” Our form of government requires citizen participation. If you would like to learn more and feel inspired by Gary’s effort, join FAV in Washington, D.C. this September. Our 4th Annual National Symposium will feature the five winning submissions from Gary’s Instagram contest. Gary will provide an overview of the contest and some of the photographers will attend in person.

Citizenship is not a spectator sport! If you like our newsletter, please share with a friend!

Steve

Coffee Talk Shout-out

Thank you to everyone from Coronado and San Clemente Coffee Talks who recently signed up for our newsletter. We plan to continue to provide relevant programming that interests community members. We will offer national-level videoconference Coffee Talks in the future to paid members and delegates who would like to learn how to start a coffee talk program in their communities.

In The News

Arthur Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute, wrote the following op-ed in the New York Times. Recent coffee talk attendees have enjoyed discussion of the ideas he presents. Enjoy! READ NOW

Mark Your Calendars

May 10th — Global LA Summit w/ Pacific Council on International Policy

May 11th — Difficult Conversations workshop w/ Kern Beare, LA

September 13-14th — the 4th Annual FAV National Symposium, Washington, D.C.

Does the First Amendment protect everything you post on social media?

Does the First Amendment protect everything you post on social media?

55224217_MThe Internet is often a chaotic and relatively unregulated public sphere, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that you can say or post anything you want without consequences. Although our public officials have been debating the extent to which the government can regulate speech and expression online for years, there remains a lot of vagueness surrounding First Amendment protections online, particularly when it comes to social media.

There have been multiple legal cases involving social media posts however, so at least there are judicial precedents from which we can reasonably determine what speech is protected by the First Amendment and what speech would be considered illegal. Here are a few situations in which the right to freedom of expression isn’t as absolute as you might think:

Violating the Terms & Conditions for Users

People often forget that the First Amendment only protects individuals against government censorship or punishment of their speech. This does not mean that Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram or other social sites are required by law to allow any and all expressions by users on their platforms. By agreeing to the site’s terms and conditions during the sign-up process, users are consenting to abide by each platform’s unique rules and if someone is banned for violating these rules, then that doesn’t necessarily constitute a First Amendment violation.

Furthermore while these social platforms are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission, the current regulations are woefully out-of-date. Perhaps some of the terms and conditions are unfair to users, but until the FCC re-examines its own regulations for social networking sites, the issue of possible First Amendment rights violations will remain up for debate.

Incriminating Information

Did you know that people have been arrested for what they posted on social media? Regardless of whether you’re serious or joking, law enforcement generally treats online threats similarly to verbal threats uttered offline and even threatening emojis can be used as warrants for arrest. Social media users also have been arrested for admitting to hit-and-runs in posts on their personal profiles, as well as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

If you think it’s just basic common sense to know what to post and what not to post on social media, then you might be surprised to learn that one teenager took a selfie with the corpse of a friend he had killed and posted it on SnapChat. Obviously this is an extreme example, but other, lesser criminal offenses brought to light by social media demonstrate the necessity of developing our digital literacy skills and being mindful of legal constraints when posting on social media.

Fired Because of a Social Media Post

As noted previously, the First Amendment primarily protects individuals against the government infringing on their rights to freedom of speech and expression. Since private sector employers are exempt from this (and many employees nowadays are considered “at-will”), this means you could potentially get fired for what you post on social media, even if it’s not illegal.

There are plenty of stories about people who got fired over social media posts, and few wrongful termination lawsuits filed by these folks have been successful in court. This is why it’s important not just to understand what’s legal and illegal on social media, but also what your employer’s social media guidelines are.

March 2019 Newsletter

March 2019 Newsletter

Reflections on our first amendment freedoms in a foreign country

As I prepare to leave Amman, following a fruitful visit writing some final thoughts in a forthcoming book, visiting a friend, and seeing nonprofit field operations in action, I paused to reflect on the current state of discourse in our country. We live in a partisan environment where identity politics overrules civility to our fellow human being, where students have begun to mobilize against what they deem as older generational failure to address existential threats (climate change, student debt, post-college employment, the national debt, racism, gun violence and more), where more people have begun tuning out network news (on the right and left), where fear and apathy push voices out of the public square, but where many civic organizations and leaders encourage people to constructively contribute to important conversations in their communities.

Jordan has many more refugees and challenges of immigration than the United States. The vast majority of people inside its borders do not have equal rights. Few believe they can express their fears and be heard. Jordanians blame Iraqis for having spiked rents, and other prices more generally, during the waves of displacement that occurred during the conflict in Iraq. Palestinians feel they will never hold the same job prospects as their Jordanian countrymen, even though many have been here for fifty years. The freedom to assemble and petition the government for grievance pales next to the vibrancy in the United States, yet you would never know comparing the atmosphere here.

Jordan is a model of stability for the region. Jordanians go about their everyday lives. Many have significant grievances. I spent time interacting with nonprofits dealing in the refugee space, learning about the extreme biases and challenges that refugees face. They are not allowed to work. Many can’t afford to put their children through school. They spend their time agonizing over basic necessities, Maslow’s hygiene needs at the lowest level of the hierarchy.

Contrast the relative calm in Jordan to the tumultuous climate in the United States, and I believe it comes from a vibrant citizenry, not only aware of its rights but freely exercising them. A substantial portion of the population has awakened to the threat of losing their rights, whether freely practicing their religion, stating their beliefs, or other means of expression. The very tenor and clamor of expression in the U.S. leads me to assess that citizens and institutions are pushing back against perceived threats. It may be messy. It may sound noisy and shrill, but it may just exhibit the traits of those fundamental rights, granted by a Creator, freely expressed by individuals against perceived state infringements or ineptitude.

So, as much as I am an introvert by nature and need quiet and solitude to recharge my batteries, I take heart from the noise. I see leaders stepping up to start blog conversations, leading coffee talk discussion groups, and engaging their civic institutions to ensure their voices are heard. I may continue to seek my news from late night comedy or podcasts, but I’ll laugh at the comedy while reveling in the idea that democracy lives in the United States, practiced by its people and institutions on a daily basis. That’s a nice thought to come home to, in addition to rejoining my family after some time apart.

Citizenship is not a spectator sport! If you like our newsletter, please share with a friend!

Steve

VOTE now in the FedEx Small Business Grant Contest

Do you want to help students attend the next National Symposium in September? Please vote to help FAV sponsor students this year. SLC supports student involvement in citizenship and professional research opportunities. Be a part of helping young men and women learn more about their country and be involved in meaningful engagement in their communities.

Mark Your Calendars

April 6th – Coffee Talk, Coronado, CA SIGN UP HERE

May 10th – Global LA Summit w/ Pacific Council on International Policy

May 11th – Difficult Conversations workshop w/ Kern Beare, LA

Three reasons why the Founding Fathers wouldn’t be surprised by our current political climate

Three reasons why the Founding Fathers wouldn’t be surprised by our current political climate

35076816_MIn today’s hyper-polarized political climate, you oftentimes hear people bemoan what our Founding Fathers would think if they came back to see what had become of the U.S. two centuries later. However, a quick glimpse at history reveals several parallels between the late 1700s and the early 2000s of today:

Treason Accusations

Former acting director of the FBI recently revealed that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein considered invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Donald Trump from the office of the presidency on the basis of being “unable to discharge” his duties as Commander-in-Chief.

This revelation led Trump to respond on Twitter:

“The biggest abuse of power and corruption scandal in our history, and it’s much worse than we thought. Andrew McCabe (FBI) admitted to plotting a coup (government overthrow) when he was serving in the FBI, before he was fired for lying & leaking.” @seanhannity @FoxNews Treason!

Regardless of whether McCabe’s statement and previously intended-but-not-taken actions constitute treason, the Founding Fathers wouldn’t be too surprised by the latest political brawl because it happened so many times in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The original Alien and Sedition Acts themselves were so poorly phrased that almost anything could be labeled treasonous, and the Sedition Act of 1918 (which was really just an amendment to the Espionage Act) vaguely prevented any “disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language” towards the U.S. government, flag or armed forces.

“Fake News”

As the Smithsonian points out, “fake news” rhetoric has been around since America was born – it just wasn’t called “fake news” back then. A notable example from the Founding Fathers’ time would be the Aurora, published and run by Benjamin Franklin’s grandson, Benjamin Bache. Based in Philadelphia, the Aurora frequently printed articles lambasting and harshly criticizing President Adams, who grew to dislike the notion of a free press, stating, “there has been more new error propagated by the press in the last ten years than in an hundred years before 1798.”

Nowadays, things haven’t improved much. We still have actual fake news spreading misinformation to millions of people online, as well as “fake news” rhetoric utilized by politicians to discredit news stories and/or media outlets publishing information that they, their parties and supporters dislike or disagree with. Fortunately, there are plenty of tools and organizations (like First Amendment Voice) to protect the public against waves of misinformation while simultaneously upholding our vital First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Wealthy-Backed Media

In the 1700s and early 1800s, it wasn’t uncommon for wealthy political figures to fund (secretly or publicly) journalists and publications that supported their political views. For example, Thomas Jefferson was known to privately fund journalists like James Callender, who aggressively supported political agendas Jefferson believed in (anti-Federalist).

Nowadays, prominent, ultra-wealthy individuals like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos (owner of The Washington Post) and Roger Ailes (1940-2017; Chairman and CEO of Fox News) likely have considerable influence over the press, though media organizations strive to maintain objectivity in their reporting as much as possible.

All in all, you might be surprised to see just how similar our First Amendment-related concerns are to the concerns of our Founding Fathers’ generation, back when the First Amendment was first established. This doesn’t mean we should give up and assume we’re doomed to repeat history, of course. Visit our donations page to help us fight for all Americans’ First Amendment freedoms today.

Freedom of assembly: What is it and why should citizens care about this right?

Freedom of assembly: What is it and why should citizens care about this right?

11092727 - demonstration with signs and tents occupying chicago downtown.When you think of the First Amendment, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of the press typically come to mind. By comparison, the freedoms to petition and peacefully assemble are frequently forgotten by American citizens asked about their First Amendment rights in surveys and informal polls. Why is that?

There is a long, complicated history behind our Constitutional right to peacefully assemble, but it’s not as well known as some of the other freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment because this is something that may not directly affect us on a daily basis. While many people assume this simply refers to the unrestricted right to protest, the reality is actually much more complex than you might think.

As the Library of Congress points out, the government cannot prohibit its citizens from congregating in public spaces, whether that entails participation in protests and marches or attending public meetings. Over time, this right has bolstered public marches, rallies, and student protests.

Nowadays, the freedom to peacefully protest is closely intertwined with our rights to freedom of speech and even freedom of religion in some cases. For instance, citizens are able to collectively amplify their voices and potentially spark socio-political change in ways that simply wouldn’t be possible if we were forced to articulate our opinions and ideas in isolation from other people who may be receptive to them.

Of course, it’s worth noting that the right to peaceful assembly is not absolute, nor is it easy to interpret under the law. There have been several legal challenges related to the question of what constitutes a “peaceful” protest, and which types of assembly may be considered dangerous, threatening, or chaotic. This is why many protest organizers need to acquire permits before a protest may take place in public. That can help the local/state/federal government to adequately prepare for a larger-than-usual public presence and properly secure the area with law enforcement, in cases of conflict between protestors and counter-protestors.

Additionally, the government may limit when and where a protest or rally may be held for the purpose of minimizing disruptions to public life. For instance, a loud, chaotic protest that clogs the streets during rush hour in a large urban area may not meet the criteria for a “peaceful” form of assembly.

Although you may not think about your right to peaceful assembly as much as you’re aware of the freedoms to speak freely and practice any religion you choose, it’s nevertheless an important right that all Americans ought to remember when it comes to the First Amendment.

Freedom of religion and tax exemption status, explained

Freedom of religion and tax exemption status, explained

26346951_MWhat’s the definition of religion? While your first response may be something like “a belief in a god,” the answer is much more complicated when it comes to freedom of religion protections and churches’ tax-exemption statuses in the U.S. In other words, the actual definition of religion (a system of faith and worship) is so broad that almost anything could technically be considered a “religion,” rather than limiting it to the major faith systems of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, etc.

Regardless of your own religious or nonreligious beliefs, have you ever wondered why churches receive tax-exemption status in the U.S. and what organizations qualify for it, per the IRS guidelines? Here’s a brief overview of the current interplay between religion and taxation in the United States:

Tax-Exemption for Religious Institutions

IRS regulations pertaining to churches and religious organizations fall under the umbrella of 501(c)(3). This means these groups are exempt from having to pay local, state and federal taxes, which could add $83.5 billion to government revenues in the U.S. if churches were required to pay taxes on donations and other forms of income.

Churches also do not have to file Form 990, which other charities are required to fill out to remain transparent about their donations and financial statements.

Pushing the Boundaries?

What is the bright line between a regular tax-exempt church and something that operates similarly to a church but doesn’t seem to be a traditional religious institution? For example, the First Church of Cannabis – which considers marijuana to be a sacrament that heals suffering and brings people closer together – was granted tax-exemption status by the IRS in 2015. Meanwhile the ever-controversial organization of Scientology is considered tax-exempt, though it has lost its exemption in the past and might lose it again in the future.

Then there’s the story of a Florida “church” called The Life Center that turned out to be a rowdy nightclub (which lost its local tax-exempt status but maintained its state tax-exemption for some time). With these major examples of non-traditional notions of what it means to be a religious organization, how does the IRS decide whether or not to grant tax-exemption without demonstrating bias in favor or against certain so-called religious groups?

Legitimacy Issues and the First Amendment

As Forbes pointed out, the IRS typically examines the following factors to decide if a church should be granted tax-exemption status:

“Distinct legal existence; Recognized creed and form of worship; Definite and distinct ecclesiastical government; Formal code of doctrine and discipline; Distinct religious history; Membership not associated with any other church or denomination; Organization of ordained ministers; Ordained ministers selected after completing prescribed study; Literature of its own; Established places of worship; Regular congregations; Regular religious services; Sunday schools for religious instruction of the young; and Schools for preparing its members.”

The problem here is that the Constitution’s freedom of religion guarantees in the First Amendment make it difficult for the government to classify some religious groups as legitimate while denying other groups’ legitimacy. Moving forward, what should the IRS do? Should they adhere to the First Amendment’s freedom of religion guarantees by approving tax exemptions for unusual organizations that claim to be religions? Or should they revoke tax-exemption status for all churches in the U.S. to improve fairness among all religious organizations?

How does the First Amendment apply in the world of sports?

How does the First Amendment apply in the world of sports?

Coach explaining game plan to basketball playersColin Kaepernick may have sparked the debate over professional athletes’ access to freedom of speech and expression protections, but controversies about athletes and First Amendment rights involve so much more than kneeling during the national anthem.

Whether you enjoy playing sports or watching sports, here’s a brief overview of the state of First Amendment rights for fans and players in the American sporting industry:

Major League Player Protests

As ESPN points out, there is no universal policy among major sports leagues when it comes to players’ conduct during the national anthem. While the new NFL policy that players and coaches must stand during the national anthem mirrors NBA and WNBA policies, the MLB and NCAA have no official policies on the matter. The NHL’s Player’s Association even went as far as explicitly confirming support for players who would like to engage in “peaceful protest” during the national anthem. Meanwhile, Major League Soccer reportedly “encourages” players to stand during the national anthem, but it does not require them to do so.

If the First Amendment primarily protects citizens against any wrongful infringement on their speech/expression by the government, should it also protect professional players that work for nongovernmental sports organizations? The debate will likely continue for many years to come.

Paid Sponsorships for College Athletic Departments

College sports are already under fire for not paying their players (beyond covering tuition/fees in most cases), while their events make millions of dollars thanks to these hard-working student-athletes. Another issue confronting college athletic departments these days is paid sponsorships, which involves corporations sponsoring college teams by offering funds, gear and other incentives in exchange for advertising opportunities.

Since public university athletic directors are technically government employees, this raises the issue of potential First Amendment violations when a director accepts some corporate sponsorships while rejecting others. Should athletic departments be able to freely deny certain corporate sponsorships and accept others, or does this represent a Constitutional violation? Experts are still divided, so this will also remain a hotly contested issue in the world of college sports for the indefinite future.

Fan Heckling = Protected Speech?

A relatively newer phenomenon related to the First Amendment and sporting events is fan heckling. In 2018, New York Giants fans were ousted and arrested for heckling, which led them to sue, claiming their First Amendment rights were violated.

In the international arena, fan heckling has typically resulted in monetary penalties for teams, such as FIFA fining Mexico in the 2018 World Cup after Mexico’s fans repeatedly hurled homophobic slurs at the goalie during their match against Germany. But when it comes to American sports – where legal jurisdiction is also more clear-cut than simply letting FIFA handle matters – should fans be penalized for heckling and poor conduct, or is this merely disrespectful behavior that should nevertheless be protected by the First Amendment?

January 2019 Newsletter

January 2019 Newsletter

Citizens & Delegates,

The coming year brings great promise for First Amendment Voice. FAV has applied for 501c3 status, beginning the transition from being a project to becoming a separate organization. We look forward to bringing our Philadelphia programming from the National Symposium to Los Angeles this spring, in addition to having community engagements in Atlanta, Columbus, Georgia, Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, and other locations. We hosted a coffee talk last week in San Clemente, California, along with the San Clemente Times to promote press literacy and support local media.

2019 promises to bring more awareness to important first amendment freedoms like practicing religion, self-expression, peaceful assembly to petition the government for grievance, and much more. We hope that if you haven’t made a new year’s resolution that you consider supporting FAV efforts by engaging in your community, supporting FAV programs through volunteering or contributing online or in person, or the many other ways you can make a difference in civic awareness and engagement. We specifically are seeking delegates to represent their states at the annual symposium in September. If you would like to be considered, please reach out today.

We have new advisors joining the movement this year and will make separate announcements in the coming weeks. If you know of anyone who has the expertise to contribute to growing the FAV movement, please reach out and let us know. We also appreciate the active engagement of some blog readers, twitter and Facebook followers, and others who provide constructive feedback and input to civic dialogue. We would like to specifically highlight BottomlessCoffee007 on our blog and twitter feed. If you haven’t seen the comments, you can find them here. Active participation in civic dialogue helps contribute to a robust, vibrant community. If you haven’t contributed yet, we hope you consider it this year. Please comment on our blogs, like/retweet or comment on twitter, like or share on Facebook, and like/comment on LinkedIn. We welcome and benefit from your input. With gratitude for the past three years and a promising future.

#FindYourVoice

The FAV Team

 

In the Media

Outrage Nation: Can America overcome its addiction to anger? Read more

Mark Your Calendars

January 12th in Coronado, CA Kern Beare leads a Difficult Conversations workshop. Click here for more details.

February 5th in Atlanta, GA Dr. Paul Murray and Steve Miska lead FAV Clergy Training on religious freedom

February 7-9 in Columbus, GA Steve Miska leads FAV coffee talks at various organizations

March TBD in Dallas/Fort Worth, TX Steve Miska leads FAV coffee talks at various organizations

April TBD in Los Angeles, CA the Pacific Council on International Policy hosts their annual Global LA Summit featuring FAV National Symposium programming

September TBD in Philadelphia FAV hosts the 4th Annual National Symposium

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Citizens & Delegates,

The coming year brings great promise for First Amendment Voice. FAV has applied for 501c3 status, beginning the transition from being a project to becoming a separate organization. We look forward to bringing our Philadelphia programming from the National Symposium to Los Angeles this spring, in addition to having community engagements in Atlanta, Columbus, Georgia, Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, and other locations. We hosted a coffee talk last week in San Clemente, California, along with the San Clemente Times to promote press literacy and support local media.

2019 promises to bring more awareness to important first amendment freedoms like practicing religion, self-expression, peaceful assembly to petition the government for grievance, and much more. We hope that if you haven’t made a new year’s resolution that you consider supporting FAV efforts by engaging in your community, supporting FAV programs through volunteering or contributing online or in person, or the many other ways you can make a difference in civic awareness and engagement. We specifically are seeking delegates to represent their states at the annual symposium in September. If you would like to be considered, please reach out today.

We have new advisors joining the movement this year and will make separate announcements in the coming weeks. If you know of anyone who has the expertise to contribute to growing the FAV movement, please reach out and let us know. We also appreciate the active engagement of some blog readers, twitter and Facebook followers, and others who provide constructive feedback and input to civic dialogue. We would like to specifically highlight BottomlessCoffee007 on our blog and twitter feed. If you haven’t seen the comments, you can find them here. Active participation in civic dialogue helps contribute to a robust, vibrant community. If you haven’t contributed yet, we hope you consider it this year. Please comment on our blogs, like/retweet or comment on twitter, like or share on Facebook, and like/comment on LinkedIn. We welcome and benefit from your input. With gratitude for the past three years and a promising future.

#FindYourVoice

The FAV Team

 

In the Media

Outrage Nation: Can America overcome its addiction to anger? Read more

Mark Your Calendars

January 12th in Coronado, CA Kern Beare leads a Difficult Conversations workshop. Click here for more details.

February 5th in Atlanta, GA Dr. Paul Murray and Steve Miska lead FAV Clergy Training on religious freedom

February 7-9 in Columbus, GA Steve Miska leads FAV coffee talks at various organizations

March TBD in Dallas/Fort Worth, TX Steve Miska leads FAV coffee talks at various organizations

April TBD in Los Angeles, CA the Pacific Council on International Policy hosts their annual Global LA Summit featuring FAV National Symposium programming

September TBD in Philadelphia FAV hosts the 4th Annual National Symposium

How does the First Amendment protect citizen journalists?

How does the First Amendment protect citizen journalists?

54161065_MWho qualifies as a “journalist” these days? Can anyone be considered a journalist, or are there certain educational and professional requirements involved? Do “citizen journalists”–everyday folks equipped with smart phones who are in the right place at the right time–count as journalists?

As Professor William E. Lee pointed out, “Anyone can be a journalist and they don’t need an affiliation with an established outlet…it’s increasingly important that unaffiliated journalists know they have the same legal protection as a reporter at a newspaper. It’s significant for the development of alternative forms of expression that do not fit neatly in our traditional concepts of speech or press.”

We could argue about who is and who isn’t a journalist all day, but there’s a bigger problem at hand: How does the First Amendment currently protect so-called “citizen journalists,” and what can be done to improve their free press freedoms? Let’s examine some of the concerns we have about citizen journalism:

Prosecuting Citizen Journalists

In 2017, Georgia citizen journalist Nydia Tisdale was convicted of a misdemeanor charge related to obstruction while filming a 2014 campaign rally that was publicly advertised but located on private property. When campaign organizers demanded she stop filming the event, Tisdale refused and was forcibly removed from the property. While she was acquitted of more serious felony charges, even the misdemeanor conviction could be a serious blow to citizen journalists’ rights around the country.

Around the world, citizen journalists are under attack. Many politicians and members of the public claim they’re not “real” journalists and therefore shouldn’t receive the same rights and protections as reporters from established media organizations. Many citizen journalists have faced threats, harassment and even arrest, as in the case of Priscilla Villarreal.

Are these incidents proof that the First Amendment rights of these citizen journalists are being violated, or are these incidents proof that citizen journalists do not and/or should not receive the same treatment as professional journalists associated with established news outlets? Perhaps only time (and many more legal battles) will give us any clarity on these issues.

Freedom of Expression Alternative?

As UNESCO points out, citizen journalists ought to receive similar protections as “established” and “professional” journalists in order to ensure freedom of expression for all citizens. Thanks to online publishing platforms like WordPress, Tumblr, YouTube and other social media channels, there are far fewer restrictions and obstacles preventing everyday people from reporting on local events, video-taping law enforcement and broadcasting images, audio and video about natural disasters happening in their communities.

Since we are increasingly reliant on citizen journalists to cover small and major events alike, they certainly should receive the same press freedom protections as professional journalists. The question that remains now is: How can we ensure citizen journalists, who may not have media badges and credentials and expensive-looking equipment, are given equal access to reporting opportunities as their professional counterparts?

The Guardians: Power, press and public perceptions

The Guardians: Power, press and public perceptions

Media Definition Shows Social Media Or MultimediaTIME‘s 2018 “person of the year” is more than just one single individual. In fact, there are several people of the year for 2018; TIME has called this group “The Guardians” to signify the importance of journalists in their never-ending pursuits to uphold democratic ideals of public trust and governmental transparency. “The Guardians” include:

  • The Washington Post reporter Jamal Khashoggi, who was violently killed in his own country’s embassy in Turkey in October
  • Journalists working for the Capital in Annapolis, Maryland, where 5 of their colleagues were shot and killed in their own newsroom back in June
  • Maria Ressa, who founded the Rappler online news site in the Philippines and covered President Rodrigo Duterte’s extrajudicial killings in the war against drugs (she’s currently awaiting sentencing that could imprison her for up to 10 years)
  • Reuters reporters Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone, who were sentenced to 7 years in prison for covering the deaths of 10 Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar

As the TIME article aptly noted, these “Guardians” are just some of the many journalists who faced harassment and violence in the line of reporting duty in 2018. Their contributions, their persistence, their sacrifices will not be forgotten, though powerful, authoritarian rulers and anti-free press laws may temporarily prevail in many countries, including our very own “Land of the Free,” the United States of America.

TIME chose “The Guardians” as their persons of the year because this decision sends a clear message to both fascist dictatorships and press-hating leaders of the free world alike: the public needs journalists. Without the dedicated reports of journalists willing to risk their lives to expose political corruption and tyrannical, anti-democratic leadership practices, how would the public ever know whether its elected leaders are truly doing their jobs and serving the will of the voters, first and foremost?

In addition to increasing levels of physical violence against journalists, public trust in the press has been plummeting. This could be due to a variety of factors, though the rapid and wide circulation of “fake news” rhetoric is arguably a major cause of public mistrust in news organizations. Psychological research has shown that the average human tends to engage in something called “confirmation bias,” which involves the acceptance of any information that conforms with our beliefs and the rejection of information that contradicts our beliefs (regardless of the actual validity of that information).

Journalists are absolutely essential for clarifying public perceptions about ongoing current events and political leaders. While there is no such thing as 100% pure objectivity, the phenomenon of “media bias” is more fiction than fact, despite what politicians who disagree with journalists might say about it.

TIME could not have picked a more important “person(s) of the year” for 2018. We, as members of American society and human beings in general, need to do more to protect those who hold power to account. We can start by refusing to believe or share fake news, demanding justice for journalists facing harassment and violence, and finally: by supporting news organizations in their relentless quest to equip the public with the knowledge and tools we need to remain a free and democratic society for many decades to come.