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Archive for the ‘1st amendment’ Category

Free Speech for All in a Fact-Free Era?

Posted by prof e on December 2, 2016

Overheard in a newsroom: “What is journalism even supposed to be now? We reported the facts, but they didn’t matter.” In case you didn’t hear, “post-truth” is Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year for 2016. Here’s how they define it on their website. post-truth

The challenge for journalists, and really anyone who get to the bottom of things, is sorting out fact from fiction, reporting from commentary, and bias from perspective.

The problem with the newsroom quote above is that too many “journalists” DIDN’T report the facts. Or when they did, they didn’t put the facts in proper context. Added to that is that reality that nearly anyone can become a de facto journalist thanks to the wonders of modern digital media and social networks. Given a place to stand and a megaphone, the most strident voices have suddenly found themselves with the ability to sway opinions…even, perhaps, influence elections.

If it seems that this blog is stuck on this topic (see recent posts about fake news and fact-checking), you’re right. But this is important…and if we don’t get this right we’ll have to live with the consequences. What consequences you say? Well, for starters how about a future where ideological conflicts spill over into the streets…where discourse and discussion give way to hate-filled rhetoric designed to alienate and subjugate the opposition?

Unfortunately some of the proposed solutions may turn out to be worse than the problem. Giving social media platforms a reason and permission to edit users’ posts is a dangerous and slippery slope. Do we really want Mark Zuckerberg’s algorithm and a team of editors deciding between fact and fiction, bias and perspective? We’ve already witnessed the failure of that approach earlier this year.

Recently Twitter booted accounts from those connected to the alt-right movement for “harassment and ‘hateful conduct,’ which includes “non-consensual slurs, epithets, racist and sexist tropes” and “behavior that incites fear about a protected group.”  This led the editors at Slate to ask if Facebook or Twitter might possibly ban President Trump. Twitter responded that it wouldn’t rule it out. As Slate said, “That’s a tough line from a company that once declared itself the ‘free speech wing of the free speech party.’” (BTW, the click-bait headline for this post might have been: “Twitter considers banning President Trump!”)

So where are we now? Some of the ejected Twitter users have moved to a new platform that promises greater freedom of speech. is, according to the New York Times, the far right’s “new digital safe space.” It’s much too early to tell if Gab has any legs, but if it does it will likely do little to advance dialog and understanding between those contending for the future of our country. Amanda Hess of the NYTimes sums it up nicely, “It’s the next logical step after all the blocking and muting on Twitter and filtering and unfollowing on Facebook split America into two social media realities. Where there once was a bubble, now there’s a wall.”


Posted in 1st amendment, ethics, interactive media, journalism, politics, regulation, social media | 1 Comment »

The Sky is FALLING…And You Won’t Believe Who’s Responsible!

Posted by prof e on November 23, 2016

misleading-fake-news-sitesThere’s been a lot of discussion lately about the potential danger of fake news. Apparently we’re a lot more gullible and susceptible to misinformation than anyone imagined, and IT IS KILLING DEMOCRACY! Okay, that conclusion may be overstating it a bit, but the number of media and political analysts who are wringing their hands over the outcome of the recent election seems to be growing. And seeking an explanation (or scapegoat), some are pointing the finger at fake news.

The proliferation of satire, fake news, clickbait, propaganda, and commentary masquerading as news is undeniable. While there have always been people with an agenda spreading lies and hearsay, the dynamics have changed in recent years. Social media platforms provide opportunities to people who, before social media, had to work a lot harder to gain an audience. For those familiar with Ryan Holiday’s “trading up the chain” approach to media manipulation, this should come as no surprise.

There have been quite a few excellent summaries of the issue. Some have questioned whether media platforms like Google and Facebook bear responsibility (here, here, and here); others have reported on specific case studies (here, and here), and efforts to combat (or at least categorize) the growing number of questionable sites (here). A new report from Stanford suggests that we have a lot of work to do while MediaShift proposes a role for journalism programs.

I have a few suggestions of my own.

  1. In a world where anyone can be a source of news, what we need is for everyone to behave like a journalist when confronted with new information. Remember the motto of skeptical journalists everywhere: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out!” We need more skepticism and less single-source research.
  2. For those of you who prefer social media for your news…because it’s free, quick, and often fun…remember that you get what you pay for. Unless you read in-depth from multiple and diverse sources you can’t consider yourself an informed consumer of news.
  3. Learn about confirmation bias and make a commitment to discovering your own vulnerability. Until we take a long, hard look in the mirror we have no right to point out the bias in others.
  4. And finally, don’t share anything on social media unless you’re willing to vouch for its accuracy and authenticity. That rule alone will do wonders to improve the overall news IQ of our democracy.

Posted in 1st amendment, ethics, journalism, media industry, new media, politics, regulation, social media | 1 Comment »

Not Safe for Advertising?

Posted by prof e on September 3, 2016

We’ve all seen the acronym NSF, which stands for Not Safe for Work. YouTube has generally been pretty careful to ensure that content on its site is devoid of overtly offensive material. But now they’ve gone a step further to protect advertisers who may be squeamish about appearing alongside content that pushes the boundaries. A new policy announced by YouTube allows them to remove certain videos from their monetization program if the contents of the videos is potentially offensive to advertisers.

YouTube producers are pushing back claiming the new policies are too strict and have a chilling effect on their creative output. According to AdAge, “On Wednesday, YouTube video creator Philip DeFranco, with 4.5 million subscribers, said he was put on the no-ad list after he mocked ‘political correctness.'”

According to Google’s guidelines, videos with the intent to “inform or entertain” and more likely to get a pass than those intended to “offend or shock.”

This is nothing new for websites and apps that rely on user-generated content. Again, according to AdAge,

The video site is just the latest to find itself embroiled in a social media battle with voices that oppose “political correctness” or claim free-speech violations over any pushback to their activities on a given platform. Last month, right-wing advocate Milo Yiannopoulos was banned from Twitter for allegedly leading a bullying blitz against “SNL” and “Ghostbusters” star Leslie Jones.

Here’s a link to a somewhat lengthy video (the first 4 min is about this issue, but the rest is pretty informative on related topics) from DeFranco that explains his position. (warning: graphic language)


Posted in 1st amendment, advertising, interactive media, new media, social media | 2 Comments »

What’s NOT Trending on Facebook?

Posted by prof e on May 16, 2016

TrendingWell, for starters there’s less conservative news from conservative sources than one might expect. A recent report by Gizmodo reveals that the Trending feed on Facebook may be less objective than many thought. One might fairly assume that these are organic results based on what is popular and being shared on Facebook…and you would be partly right. But the revelation that has the media world talking is that insiders say that Facebook intentionally directs human curators to leave out conservative news and opinions while injecting other news stories that are not actually trending.

Now, just to be clear, we fully expect traditional news sources to make decisions regarding what is news worthy and which stories to place on the front page. This is standard practice and any debate about the ethics of this practice is only to the extent that the editorial policies of any given news organization are consistent and transparent. The objection here is that Facebook appeared to be suggesting that the Trending stories were simply the result of algorithms analyzing Facebook for popular results. But if that’s not the case, and Facebook is injecting some stories and holding others back, then there is a real problem that deserves a response.

Sure, the news industry has long been viewed as an uneven playing field where liberal voices have had an upper hand. More recently talk radio and Fox News tilted things back towards the other side. The rise of the internet was seen as a solution for the potential threat of big media controlling access to information. But if Facebook (or Apple, Google, Microsoft, or any other new media mega-corporation) is willing to inject their own biases into their products and platforms, the playing field will become a swamp where no one will dare to venture. This idea that platforms ought to be agnostic is at the very core of the argument in favor of Net Neutrality.

Social media is increasingly becoming a source of news. While mainstream news media (broadcast and cable TV, newspapers, and news magazines) struggle to remain relevant, social media has stepped up to offer bite-sized morsels of news for the highly-distracted audience. Facebook, Google, Snap Chat, and others have been competing for the attention of this audience.

The enormity of the power that can be deployed by a company the size of Facebook is staggering. Just a short time ago Facebook was caught manipulating the emotional state of its users by selectively posting content to their wall intended to make them feel certain emotions. An earlier experiment was designed to discover if manipulating a person’s news feed could make them more inclined to vote in an upcoming election. Now, imagine for a moment if that same persuasive power were exerted for one side or the other in an ideological or political contest.

In response to the allegations Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has denied the charges but has offered to meet with conservative leaders. That meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, May 18th and one of the conservative leaders who will meet with Zuckerberg is MCCNM alumnus Dana Perino, former White House Press Secretary.

Posted in 1st amendment, ethics, interactive media, journalism, media industry, new media, politics, social media | 1 Comment »

Freedom of Expression Has Limits

Posted by prof e on April 21, 2016

FreedomOfExpressionESPN’s decision to fire baseball commentator Curt Schilling is not an infringement of Schilling’s rights under the First Amendment. Companies have parted ways with high profile employees for all sorts of public statements or deeds that were at odds with the company’s image. A few that come to mind are: Justine Sacco, Sergeant Gary Stein, Paula Deen, Adria Richards (this one is complicated), and don’t forget shock jocks Anthony Cumia and Don Imus. Even when your job is to be outrageous and over-the-line, apparently there is still a line that must not be crossed.

Schilling’s offense (reposting an anti-transgender meme on Facebook) comes at a difficult time in America as social norms are changing at a dramatic pace. Remember that just a few short years ago President Barack Obama and candidate Hillary Clinton were both opposed to same-sex marriage. And now that same-sex marriage is the law of the land, transgender rights have become the next big issue. While people evolve on where they stand on the issue, companies, political figures, celebrities and other entities are making statements about where they stand. In this case ESPN decided to take a stand that put Schilling on the wrong side of the issue.

In countries that do not have an equivalent of the First Amendment, public statements can quickly lead to government action. Just this week German Chancellor Angela Merkel allowed a court to proceed with prosecution of  a German comedian for defaming Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. According to a report in the Washington Post, similar laws exist in Sweden, Monaco, and Spain…countries not typically thought of as repressive regimes. In some Muslim countries, blasphemy laws allow for punishment up to and including death.

These events raise questions and concerns about just how much freedom of expression exists within certain corporate or political cultures.

Posted in 1st amendment, ethics, media industry, politics, social media | 3 Comments »

The End of Tolerance

Posted by prof e on March 12, 2016

The current political race for President has stirred up a lot of emotion and, let’s face it, anger. Bernie and his supporters are angry about economic inequality; The Donald and his supporters are angry about immigration, the uneven economic recovery and a bunch of other things; Hillary and her supporters are angry about racism and sexism; and Ted and his supporters are angry about a variety of social conservative issues. This is a very simplified depiction of what the various candidates and their supporters stand for, but it begins to explains why this particular contest is so hotly contested.

The brawl at the cancel Chicago rally for Donald Trump yesterday has folks on both sides pointing fingers, claiming intolerance and declaring their First Amendment right to speak and be heard.

Saturday Night Live, like Jon Stewart, John Oliver, and Stephen Colbert, has a track record of making fun of politicians and political issues to make a point. And last week’s fake ad for Trump speaks directly to this matter of racism.

Whether you agree or not with Trump or his detractors, the arguments on both sides have been enflamed with passion. When I watched the SNL video today I took a quick look at the comments (almost NEVER a good idea) and found this.


Apparently [heat-mon] selected quotes from responses to Dianne Bishop, (by people opposed to her support for Trump), and posted them to make the case that intolerance of intolerance also has an ugly side.

And older folks wonder why young people don’t show more interest in politics.

Posted in 1st amendment, advertising, politics, social media | Leave a Comment »

Security v Privacy: Choose Carefully

Posted by prof e on November 18, 2015

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris have raised new questions about safety and security in a globally connected world. According to an article in yesterday’s New York Times, readily available encryption is easy to use, and impossible to access even by government agents with warrants.

Some of the most powerful technologies are free, easily available encryption apps with names like Signal, Wickr and Telegram, which encode mobile messages from cellphones. Islamic State militants used Telegram two weeks ago to claim responsibility for the crash of the Russian jet in the Sinai Peninsula that killed 224 people, and used it again last week, in Arabic, English and French, to broadcast responsibility for the Paris carnage.

Another report, this one published in the Wall Street Journal, provided the following graphic to show which apps are most secure, and therefore most likely to be deployed by those intent on avoiding the attention of military and police counter-terrorism forces.


A lower-tech approach to terrorist communications is to use the online gaming platforms, e.g. PS4, to share information. According to this approach the terrorist are counting on the sheer volume of messages using similar violent language to mask their terrorist communications.

Meanwhile the cyber-hacking group Anonymous is waging its own war on ISIS. “Vowing to silence extremist propaganda and expose undercover operatives,” Anonymous claims to have deleted 5,500 Twitter accounts that had been used by ISIS. In a video just released they warned, “Expect massive cyber attacks. War is declared. Get prepared.”

According to the WSJ,

The bloodshed in Paris will likely exacerbate a tense debate between governments that want inside access to those encrypted tools and tech companies that say [they] are trying to protect customer data and are wary of government overreach.

What do you think? Does personal privacy trump security, or vice versa?

Posted in 1st amendment, applications, ethics, global media, interactive media, new media, politics | Leave a Comment »

I Need Some Muscle Over Here

Posted by prof e on November 15, 2015

Rarely is the 1st Amendment on such public display as it has been in recent days at the University of Missouri. On the bright side, the right to free speech, to peaceably assemble, and to petition Congress for a redress of grievances has been front and center. But so too has been some pretty ugly behavior that makes one wonder if people really understand why press freedom is such an important part of the 1st Amendment.

A video of the demonstration contains a startling statement (at 6:30)…and even more so when you realize who said it!

According to the New York Times,

As the video nears its end, the person taking the video, Mark Schierbecker, emerged from the scrum and approached a woman, later identified as an assistant professor of mass media, Melissa Click, close to the tents. When he revealed that he was a journalist, Ms. Click appeared to grab at his camera.

She then yelled, “Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here.”

In what may provide some consolation to journalists and 1st Amendment supporters, Ms. Click resigned her position with the School of Journalism the following day.

Again, according to the NYT,

Mitchell S. McKinney, the chairman of the department of communication, released his own statement, saying: “We applaud student journalists who were working in a very trying atmosphere to report a significant story. Intimidation is never an acceptable form of communication.”

You can watch the full video here

In this version of the video the confrontation is @ the 7:15 mark

Jan 27, 2016 update: The Chronicle of Higher Education published an article that explores the content of Melissa Click’s email inbox in the days after the incident.

Posted in 1st amendment, ethics, journalism | 1 Comment »

#NoNotoriety for Killers

Posted by prof e on October 13, 2015

You may have seen the hashtag #NoNotoriety in response to the latest mass killing at the community college in Oregon. The idea has plenty of support from well-meaning and thoughtful people who want the violence to stop. If only, they argue, the perpetrators could be banished from the front page and forced out of the limelight. Unfortunately it’s not quite that simple. Yes, media coverage likely contributes to copy-cat killings. But media coverage contributes to lots of things, good and bad.

What is a realistic alternative? Are we going to selectively decide to cover some stories when we think it will lead to positive outcomes and not cover other stories when we have reason to suspect that readers/viewers/listeners will  take the information and use it inappropriately? The dictionary definition of “slippery slope” might as well use this scenario to illustrate the concept.

Steve Henson, CSU-Pueblo Mass Communications alumnus, editor of the Pueblo Chieftain, and guest speaker to our class last week, wrote a column recently addressing this very issue. You can read it here. In his column Mr. Henson lays out his argument for why the Chieftain will not refrain from naming killers. Henson argues that more information, not less, is likely to help us prevent future instances like these. What do you think?

Posted in 1st amendment, ethics, journalism | 12 Comments »

Stumbling Upon a Little Slice of America the Beautiful

Posted by prof e on May 27, 2015

Monday was Memorial Day, and since I had no other plans I decided to head east of Pueblo to grab some footage of the Arkansas river at flood stage. I’m working on a documentary about the Arkansas river, and footage of it flooding might be useful as I try to explain how this precious, over-tapped resource occasionally delivers more water than anyone wants or needs. I grabbed a few shots at the bridge at Avondale and then continued east towards Rocky Ford.

On my way I noticed a small crowd beginning to gather at the Fowler Cemetery. With American flags flying, and Boy Scouts and veterans of war in uniform, it quickly occurred to me that this was a Memorial Day observance at the local cemetery. Since I wasn’t on a schedule I decided to stop and grab a few quick shots. As I moved through the crowd I saw young and old, mostly ranchers and farmers, turning out to honor those who died fighting for freedom. They sang patriotic songs, a local minister delivered an inspirational speech, and the local Boy Scouts raised the flag…to which the crowd recited the pledge of allegiance.

After returning home a few hours later I edited a short piece that attempted to capture this little slice of America…and a scene that I’m sure was repeated in hundreds, if not thousands, of small towns across America. KOAA-TV used a portion of it in their 10pm newscast and uploaded the entire video to their Facebook page where it attracted more than 17,000 views, 570 likes, and 182 shares in the first 12 hours.

Posted in 1st amendment, journalism, tv | 2 Comments »