According 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:
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.
The Third Annual National Symposium took place at the National Constitution Center on September 15th in the City of Philadelphia under the theme “E Pluribus Unum or Divided?” exploring what unites us as a country and where social divisions might be widening.
The National Constitution Center hosted the symposium for the 3rd year in a row. Morning sessions hosted panel discussions on social divisions as they relate to the First Amendment. A working lunch addressed ways in which we can engage in civil dialogue both as students and non-students. During the afternoon, the forum spotlighted the NFL Kneeling Controversy in a Town Hall forum debate with a veteran, NFL football player and other perspectives featured.
Why 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.”
Michel Faulkner speaks on the NFL kneeling controversy panel at the 3rd annual National Symposium in Philadelphia
Many FAV supporters had the privilege of interacting with experts from the first amendment space in Philadelphia during our national Symposium, in addition to meeting lots of people interested in civil discourse. After Dr. Wilson Goode, the first African American Mayor of Philadelphia, provided a thought provoking keynote address, the opening plenary panelists explored the contours of first amendment trends on college campuses, in the media, and through the lenses of technology and social media. These nonpartisan experts agreed that America’s current state of political polarization could not be addressed with technological fixes or government involvement. They concluded that we as citizens needed to develop political and social paths forward to resolve some of the most vexing challenges facing our country. So, how do we do that?
After our breakout trainers provided tools for civic engagement, Kern Beare, Founder of Pop the Bubble, demonstrated how to engage in a “Difficult Conversation,” and Janessa Gans Wilder, Founder and Executive Director of the Euphrates Institute, led students on a journey of self-exploration to determine what in their personal stories shaped their current perspectives of the world. Following the Symposium, Kern led several Difficult Conversation workshops in the DMV area, including Capitol Hill on September 18th, Frederick, Maryland on September 27th, and Arlington, Virginia on September 28th. We seem to have a thirst for understanding how to bridge divides in our society. The partisan rhetoric alienates many people from wanting to engage in the public square. However, when we host events that establish norms of first seeking to understand andlisten, people tend to be willing to take the risk of venturing forth.
FAV will continue to collaborate in this space and is currently in discussions with strategic partners to bring our programming to the west coast. Don’t worry, we’ll return to Philly and DC, as well. Look for more opportunities to experience meaningful dialogue around sensitive issues like the conversation we hosted in Philadelphia. Kern moderated a discussion on the NFL Kneeling issue between Reverent Michel Faulkner, a former Jets Defensive Lineman, Scott Cooper, a retired Marine officer, and Mr. Alan Inman, a decade’s long leader and organizer in African American communities and Senior Advisor to the Global Peace Foundation. Speakers demonstrated civility to each other, as well as, audience members who asked questions or contributed to the discussion. Stay tuned for similar programming in future FAV events! The experience can be uplifting and contribute to healing some of the divisions within our present discourse.
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Yours in service,
Steve Miska and the FAV Team
3rd Annual First Amendment Voice National Symposium Highlights
Many people have been getting fired from their jobs recently due to content they posted on their personal social media accounts. Some of the well-known instances of someone losing a job due to their expressions on social media include:
Former Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn was fired for 2008-2009 era tweets containing offensive messages about race, women, the Holocaust and 9/11.
Former PR executive Justine Sacco, “jokingly” tweeted about not getting AIDS during a trip to Africa because she was white (she was fired before her plane landed after the tweet went viral).
A former nurse in Texas was fired for violating HIPAA by posting about a patient with measles in an anti-vaccination group in which she was a member.
There are many other instances of people losing their jobs over social media posts, but does this actually violate their rights to freedom of speech and expression? Let’s unpack some of the First Amendment issues at hand:
Free Speech in a Private Workplace
As the American Bar Association points out, “if this use of economic power to punish speech sounds un-American, remember that the First Amendment limits only the government’s ability to suppress speech.” This means that individuals employed by private companies could be subjected to restrictive social media policies as conditions for their continued employment and possibly fired for posting anything that could hurt the company’s reputation — even if you don’t post anything about the company or people working there at all.
Union members may have greater freedom when it comes to posting whatever they want on social media without fearing retribution from an employer due to union negotiations and contracts prohibiting the termination of an employee for reasons related to social media activity. However, this is not guaranteed and if you’re considered an “at-will” employee, then the First Amendment likely will not protect you if you’re fired as a result of something you posted or even shared on social media.
Free Speech for Public Employees
Since public employees work for the government, most of them are given full First Amendment rights to freedom of speech in the workplace and beyond. As WorkplaceFairness.org explains, public employees can generally not be terminated from their positions unless their speech relates to a matter of “public concern”. But even this is a murky gray area that courts have yet to adequately and thoroughly define.
Watch What You Post on Social Media
To minimize the possibility of losing your job over what you post on social media, there are a few things you should do to lower your risk of retaliation:
Delete any old posts that could be considered inflammatory or offensive.
Limit how far back people can view your posts on your social profiles.
Don’t post anything online that you wouldn’t want to see connected to your name.
Increase your social media privacy and security settings.
Review your employer’s social media policy for employees (if one exists).
Our national convening in the City of Philadelphia for our Third Annual National Symposium took place at the National Constitution Center on September 15th. The theme this year was “E Pluribus Unum or Divided?” as we explored what unites us as a country and where social divisions might be widening.
The National Constitution Center was our host site for the 3rd year in a row. Morning sessions hosted panel discussions on social divisions as they relate to the First Amendment. A working lunch addressed ways in which we can engage in civil dialogue both as students and non-students. During the afternoon, we spotlighted the NFL Kneeling Controversy in a Town Hall forum debate with a veteran, NFL football player and other perspectives featured.
According to Roger McNamee, filter bubbles are the “most important [tools] used by Facebook and Google to hold user attention” because they lead to an “unending stream of posts that confirm each user’s existing beliefs.” In other words, filter bubbles arise from online algorithms that are tailored to each individual user based on what they have previously searched for. This may seem like a good idea for creating a more customized web browsing experience, but when it comes to politics and democracy itself, filter bubbles can have devastating consequences.
Since our upcoming National Symposium focuses on the subject of political divisions in America today, let’s explore the role online filter bubbles play in political polarization:
Shutting Out Dissent
Filter bubbles are dangerous because they create the illusion that everyone agrees with our thoughts and opinions online. If we disagree with someone’s political views on social media, we can simply block or unfollow them, which means we won’t have to read any dissenting opinions, let alone engage with others who disagree with us in any way. This is problematic because it can further entrench our values and ideas without ever having to critically question why we believe what we believe or consider alternative viewpoints.
If we are not exposed to other ideas and perspectives beyond our own beliefs, then this artificial absence of contrary evidence or opinions can trick us into thinking we must be right because no counter-argument seems to exist. In reality, we simply don’t see those counter-arguments. The algorithms that determine what we see first (or at all) in our social media and news feeds sacrifice exposure to many possible views in exchange for a highly subjective web browsing experience related to our search histories.
Be Open to New Perspectives
To avoid getting caught in a filter bubble and boost your own awareness of others’ views, it’s important to consume news and other informative content from a variety of websites and news platforms instead of only going to one source for all your information. Additionally, you should embrace opportunities to engage with others who disagree with you – online and offline – in order to understand what “the other side” believes and critically consider your own beliefs, rather than accepting them as innately true.
It’s not easy to accept the possibility that viewpoints contradicting your own could be just as valid as your views, but it’s a crucial component of becoming a well-rounded and informed citizen, rather than giving in to political polarization and attacking the “other side” just because you disagree with them. The old adage of “let’s agree to disagree” is relevant here – you may never come eye-to-eye with someone online, but rather than getting trapped in a filter bubble, actively reach out and constructively engage with others to bridge divides and begin the healing process for our deeply polarized nation.
James Madison once said, “What spectacle can be more edifying or more seasonable, than that of Liberty and Learning, each leaning on the other for their mutual and surest support?” With our Founding Fathers’ wisdom in mind, we couldn’t be more excited to share new and exciting details about our upcoming national symposium with you! This year’s theme involves “E. Pluribus Unum or Divided?” – in which we’ll explore the current state of political polarization in the U.S., along with research-proven strategies and expert advice guiding discussions to help us overcome divisions amongst our fellow citizens.
What you need to know about the Symposium
This year’s symposium will take place at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. We have many amazing speakers and discussion panels lined up, and you can get a head start on the event by attending our exclusive VIP reception at the Wyndham Hotel on Friday, September 14th.
Since our main focus is overcoming political divisions and developing new, constructive ways to interact with citizens in our communities and online, panels will include speeches from experts and opportunities for attendees to discuss the most pressing issues affecting our First Amendment rights. The symposium will begin at 9am and conclude at 5pm on Saturday, September 15th, so be sure to sign up today to secure your spot at this once-in-a-lifetime event.
Student can enter our Instagram contest
George Washington once said, “A primary object should be the education of our youth in the science of government. In a republic, what species of knowledge can be equally important? And what duty more pressing than communicating it to those who are to be the future guardians of the liberties of the country?”
In other words, students of today are the protectors of our First Amendment freedoms in the future, which is why we want to acknowledge and reward civic-minded high school and college students for their efforts. If you are actively making a difference in your community and want to learn more about how you can preserve First Amendment rights for everyone, then you won’t want to miss our Instagram contest this year!
We’re giving away free tickets to the symposium for students who demonstrate their commitment to unity by following First Amendment Voice on Instagram and submitting photos with #FAVUnity in the caption (be sure to explain how you’re bridging divides and bringing people closer together, too!). One student grand prize winner will receive free admission to our VIP Reception at the Wyndham Hotel on Friday evening before the symposium begins, so enter our contest any time before September 1st for a chance to win big!
Plan your visit to this year’s Symposium
The 3rd annual symposium is just around the corner, so click here to sign up to attend the event. Performing our civic duties involves so much more than just voting, so come out to Philadelphia and engage with like-minded citizens to learn about the latest and most successful strategies for protecting our Constitutional rights for all Americans.
Social media is one of the most controversial yet common parts of society today. Almost everyone has a social media account (or several), and while many of us enjoy connecting with friends and family, there are many downsides to social media as well.
Take freedom of the press, for instance. How do you think social media has influenced journalism today: for better or for worse? Let’s examine some of the potential threats that social media poses to our basic press freedoms in the US and abroad:
Inconsistent censorship policies
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other major social platforms are regularly criticized for their unclear censorship policies and potential biases against certain individuals and groups. Regardless of one’s political affiliation, we can see how this lack of clarity when it comes to which content is accessible to the public can be damaging for small-time journalists who may be censored for publicizing their opinions on social media.
So how do social media platforms differentiate between truly credible journalism versus fake news or borderline libelous content? For the time being, they’re trying to rely on artificial intelligence to sort the good from the bad, but since the algorithm isn’t perfect, some journalists may fall through the cracks and face stringent censorship policies.
The term “doxxing” refers to the act of gathering and publicly posting someone’s personal information online for the purpose of intimidation. This is an alarmingly frequent tactic used against journalists in order to punish them for unfavorable reporting or frighten them out of their jobs. Doxxing would arguably not be as effective without social media, which allows for the rapid sharing of the most private details about another person for the purpose of harassing, stalking or intimidating them.
If journalists are not free to perform their jobs without fear of getting doxxed as a result of their reporting, then how can we possibly ensure the news we are getting is accurate and not at all influenced by such intimidation tactics?
A recent study conducted by computer scientists found that an average of 59% of social media users share content without ever clicking on the link they’re sharing! This presents a gloomy outlook for legitimate news organizations that are trying to promote truthful, ethical journalism amid a sea of fake stories with clickbait headlines that are specifically designed to evoke emotional reactions to that content, regardless of it’s actual validity.
In this sense, the spread of completely false information threatens legitimate journalism outlets just as much as the #fakenews label thrown around on social media. This false information distorts our perceptions of reality and makes it more difficult to believe anything we read.
Update: Congratulations to our #FAVunity Grand Prize Winner, Hilary Cohen!
Hilary Cohen’s #FAVunity Instagram submission shows how she is helping build bridges in her community and beyond
Instagram Contest for Students
Will you be in Philadelphia this September 15th? This is your chance to win FREE admission to our National Symposium at the National Constitution Center! Learn more about our dynamic symposium HERE and keep reading to see details on our Instagram Contest for students. Don’t want to wait? REGISTER NOW.
Prizes and How to Win
The Grand Prize recipient gets free attendance to the Symposium VIP Reception on September 14th at the Wyndham Hotel in downtown Philadelphia, free admission to the Symposium at the National Constitution Center on September 15th, and a free tour of the new American Revolution Museum in Philadelphia. Ten runners up get free admission to the Symposium.
Post a photo on your Instagram that answers the question, “What do you do in your community to bring people together?” Use the hashtag #FAVUnity and like @1stamendmentvoice on Instagram to qualify for a Grand Prize and ten runners up prizes.
Time Limit: August 1-31st, 2018
Winners will be selected:
August 31: 10 Runners Up and GRAND PRIZE Winner (selected from whole month submissions)
Entrants can be any active student, whether high school, undergrad, graduate, PhD, etc.
Entrants agree to allow First Amendment Voice (FAV) to use any photos submitted for promotional purposes in the Symposium or future events.
In order to qualify, entrants must post a photo using the hashtag #FAVUnity and follow @1stamendmentvoice on Instagram.
Only entries submitted between August 1st and August 31st, 2018 will be considered.
This contest is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Instagram.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or Abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”