Saturday, January 10, 2015

Revisiting the Newseum's First Amendment exhibits after the recent serious "real world" challenges (violence in France, threats to Sony)


Today, late in the afternoon, after visiting the NBC4 Health Expo, I stopped at the Newseum, near the Archives Metro Stop (Green Line) to renew my membership, having missed the demonstrations in the cold Wednesday night there in support of Charlie Hebdo, slain (with up to 15 others) in France by Islamic extremists this week.
  

I did visit the small addition to the Civil Rights exhibit to see the posters from the Ferguson, MO protest (only item was from Missouri, but hopefully the Newseum will add a lot of other material on this soon), and then went and reviewed the First Amendment exhibit on the same level.
  
The First Amendment has separate provisions for Freedom of Speech, Freedom of the Press, Freedom of Assembly, and Freedom to Petition.  They are not exactly the same things.  A court ruling favorable to one of them doesn’t always guarantee a similar ruling on the others, although it may influence it. It's interesting that the government has been willing to pass sedition laws when it sees fit, despite the First Amendment;  in World War I, criticizing the military draft was seen as an unacceptable threat to national security, precisely over the irony that Woodrow Wilson (a Democrat) needed the power to force young males to sacrifice themselves.  
  

The exhibit has panels on “modern issues” for each one of these.  The main modern setting for “freedom of speech” is, of course, the Internet (cyber-freedom). 
  

For Freedom of the Press, there was a panel examining the question as to whether amateur bloggers have the same protections as the formal press.  The courts have generally been favorable to this notion (as with the COPA case), although maybe less so in the area of shielding journalists from disclosing sources. 
  

There was also a panel regarding a blogger who was sued by Apple for disclosing trade secrets.  The big case involved “Think Secrets” run by Nick Ciarelli, Wired story of the resolution here (the blogger lost and had to shut down his site). There is a useful presentation on the problem here. (Section 230 was mentioned in the litigation.) 


The resolve to defend “freedom of the press” in the wake of the attacks in France seems strong, but most media outlets will not publish the “cartoons”.  One could say that, with respect to Islam, the cartoons present a similar degree of offense to the “n” and “f” words in western culture.  More disturbing is the question of whether social media and amateur blogging could be construed as endangering the public.  “Social media” and public blogs are not the same thing – the latter is more “true publishing” for its own sake, and these can have different impacts. Blogs have sometimes been a tool for radicalization and providing instructions, just as social media can provide a tool for “recruiting” and both could allow steganography (a point often made right after 9/11 but quickly forgotten).  I’m reading the rather naysaying book “The Internet Is Not the Answer” by “Andrew Keen”.  I’ll review it soon (I had reviewed “The Cult of the Amateur” on June 26, 2007).  So far, he’s mainly talking about job loss, but he does consider Internet fame an unearned, false reward that might not hold up forever as a fundamental right if others are really put in jeopardy, however indirectly. 


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