Each year, on May 1, we celebrate Law Day. This is a national day that was established to celebrate the rule of law. On Law Day, we seek to better understand how our liberty is protected through the legal process and the practice of law. Also on Law Day, we explore how the American society works to achieve justice and builds the freedoms that every American shares.
Free Speech, Free Press, Free Society
Law Day is always accompanied by a theme. The theme for Law Day 2019 is Free Speech, Free Press, Free Society. This year we reflect on the many ways the laws established by our government protect our freedom and ensure these rights. The protection of free speech and free press work to guarantee our Constitutional freedom of “the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.”
The foundation of a free society anywhere in the world is based upon the freedom of speech and the press. In the practice of law, free speech and free press are common topics found in proceedings and litigation. It is unthinkable to conceive of a free society without the pillars of free speech and free press, but as a society witnessing the most rapid changes in the way we communicate, these liberties are often challenged and debated. The boundaries of free speech and free press are much less precise than just a decade ago because the technology of communication has reshaped how these individual liberties affect the daily lives of the people in our society.
The blurring of free speech
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the
That passage is, for the most part, the entirety of the First Amendment of the Constitution. It is straightforward and, at the same time, comprehensive. It’s also commonly misunderstood.
Most people understand that there are cases where someone’s words could put others in danger, the often used “you cannot yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater,” comes to mind. In the age of the internet, we are presented with new challenges.
What happens when your Facebook account is temporarily disabled because of something you posted. You’ve been put in “Facebook Jail,” but is this a violation of free speech or free press?
The short answer is, no. It’s not a violation. The First Amendment protects you from the government censoring or punishing you because of your speech. The First Amendment does not protect you from censorship by private organizations. So when you do find your social media account in Facebook Jail because of something you posted that you believed fell under free speech, there’s not a lot you can do but wait for your account to be freed up again.
Now that you understand that your protection from the Facebook censors does not exist, you’ll think twice before you post what might be considered “hate speech” in the comments of someone else’s post.
But what about a case where the online world and the real world intersect. Does the First Amendment’s protection of free speech cover you if you are fired from your job because of something you posted online? This is a complex question that could have a variety of answers. Put simply, if you work for a private company, it is unlikely that you will be protected. Now, this does not mean that a private company can do whatever they want. Depending on the situation and what was said online, the firing could violate laws prohibiting discrimination
For local, state, and federal government employees, social media posts should not interfere with the employee’s ability to do their job. This becomes a delicate balancing act for those charged with regulating social media activity of government employees.
Another hot topic since the rise of social media is on line reviews. Many businesses become victims of false reviews from competitors or people who just like leaving bad reviews without even being customers. Social media platforms are struggling with how to balance the free speech rights of users to make comments and businesses which are attempting to protect their reputations. More case law will be developed in this area over the coming years. On-line bullying on a personal level will also be discussed by the Courts as it is a growing concern especially with educators and parents.
The blurring of the freedom of the press
Some might argue that the press has less freedom today than at any time in history. Being a journalist, whether for a media outlet or on the internet, has become a dangerous profession. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, between 2002 and 2012, five hundred and six journalists were killed globally. Now, this certainly goes beyond the freedom of the press protected by the US First Amendment, but it does highlight a form of censorship, namely fear of reporting, that evades the traditional protection of liberties that our Constitution provides.
Additionally, we hear more and more about “fake news” and its introduction into the American and global conversation. The term “fake news”, which gained popularity in 2017, is the creation of misleading information, hoaxes, or other untrue news stories that are specifically written to deceive the reader into believing they are true.
Fake news exists at all levels of journalism and has
At the highest levels of the press, fake news takes the shape of inaccuracies in reporting, intentional or not. These untruths can be subtle in their presentation but can have a dramatic impact on the perception of the news-consuming public. Sometimes, fake news is so convincing that national networks will pick up a story and report it as true.
Fake news can easily spread due to the availability and speed of communication and social channels.
The introduction of fake news into the contemporary dialog blurs the effectiveness of the protection of the free press. At a deeper level, it causes the news-consuming public to be less trustworthy of any media outlet.
Reflecting on Law Day 2019, are we still a free society?
As we participate in Law Day 2019 and spend time considering how the protection of
However, we live in a time of hyper-change. Day to day information is transmitted faster and with higher levels of convenience. It is natural that the protection of our liberties will need to evolve with these changes. It is up to everyone to help make sure that happens through public service and facilitating awareness. We can all play a part.
While you might not be planning a “Law Day Party,” everyone at the Orlando Law Group hopes that you’ll join us in considering how important the rule of law is in maintaining our freedom. Happy Law Day 2019!