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Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn … these are all popular social media sites. On these sites you can network, connect with friends family, even celebrities, and contact people. But what about Skype?

Skype is a downloadable (free) application that computer users can utilize to make calls and connect with people across the Internet. All calls are free and can be made from across the world. You can video chat, phone call or instant message. Skype is akin to AOL Instant Messenger, Windows Live Messenger or Yahoo Messenger, but it is a universal communication tool. You can visit Skype’s website here.

Skype has been used by television shows, such as talk shows, in order to video chat celebrities to speak on their shows.  Skype has also been commonly used by businesses world wide for conference calls, as there are file transfer features and other business tools that make worldwide corporate meetings easy and free.

But what about it being a social media outlet? Once on Skype, you have a list of contacts, where you can search friends and family from across the world and add them to your contact list.  This is similar to “friend requesting” on Facebook or MySpace, or following on Twitter, as you are asking a contact to be added to their list and sending them a notification that they have been added to your list. Skype also allows you to write through instant message and calls, much like writing on walls on Facebook or commenting on posts on MySpace. You can also reply to tweets on Twitter. The similarities between these applications are apparent, but would Skype be considered a social media outlet?

In 2009, 23.6 billion minutes were spent on Skype between users. It has been estimated to deliver 8% of all human-to-human voice communications. However, it has been referred to as a telephone company. So, while you can post a profile picture and input information onto your personal profile on Skype, it has not been deemed a social media outlet.

I videotaped an interview with Edd Paffett, an avid Skype user, who talks about his use and the future of Skype. You can watch the video below:

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Social Media – What is It?

Since the advent of such social networking sites as Myspace and Facebook, social media has been a topic of much discussion. In my opinion, social media covers all aspects of networking and interactive personal websites. This includes Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, LinkedIn, and I would include blogs. Each of these sites are personal (your own page), interactive (you can interact with friends, family, strangers, fans, etc.) and promote or sell some type of content (even if it’s just yourself!).

These social media sites affect what I write on my blog because in order to be up-to-date and to be knowledgeable, nowadays, you need to be plugged into multiple social media outlets. For example, I have a Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, this blog and a personal blog. I find out about news and current events through all of these outlets. I also find out what’s going on with other people through these, thus finding out about opinions on issues, etc. Without the mulitiplicity of the ever-expanding social media sites, I would perhaps not get such well-rounded coverage of an issue. Most of my blog posts utilize various different sources in order to obtain all the information I want to post. Given all of the social media that is out there now, I can’t imagine not having it available.

Using media in the courtroom has been a controversy between amendments. It’s freedom of the press (1st Amendment) vs. the right to a fair trial (6th Amendment). One side argues that the press should be allowed to cover court cases in the courtroom (videos, audio, etc.) while others contend that it causes potential bias, thus not giving the accused a fair trial.

In my Communication Law class taken last semester, we studied such cases as Sheppard v. Maxwell (1965), when a man on trial for murder – Samuel Sheppard – challenged the court’s decision by asserting that his right to a fair trial was ruined because of the media allowed in the courtroom. In their ruling, the Supreme Court noted that Sheppard did not, in fact, receive a fair trial. Estes v. Texas (1965) was another such case, in which the Supreme Court found favor with Bill Sol Estes in that his 14th Amendment right of due process was violated because of the publicity of his trial due to the media in the courtroom.

Al Tompkins wrote an article on Poynter’s website about cameras in the courtroom, filled with a lot of practical information. He noted that 43 states allow coverage at the trial level.

In Pennsylvania, federal courts do NOT allow cameras and recording devices in the courtroom. Often times, sketches are used during an on-air news segment instead. For further information on PA Recording Laws, check this out.

Speech Codes

The post prior to this addresses a key speech code case. The ruling from Doe v. University of Michigan (1989) is depictive of how the courts generally rule with regard to speech codes. What are speech codes? Speech codes are rules or policies put into effect that limit certain forms of speech, such as hate speech or speech that could be conceived as harassment, within a school, workplace or other public area. Most speech code issues deal with educational institutions, with particular focus on speech codes on university campuses.

What are the problems with enacting speech codes? Most speech codes, as written, are too broad and thus, subject to interpretation with each incident. This is one of the major problems with speech codes, and as seen in Doe v. University of Michigan, what courts generally cite as their reasoning behind the unconsitutionality of these codes. Of course, these codes also infringe upon First Amendment rights, which explicity states that no law shall be made “abridging the freedom of speech.” However, this issue, as are many others, is not always black and white. Throughout American history, there have been cases where some speech has been protected and some speech hasn’t by the First Amendment.

1989 – For three years prior to the case, the University of Michigan had increasing episodes of hate speech, in particular racism and racist comments (bc.edu). As a result of these incidents, the university decided to amend school policy and include a speech code in 1988, which prohibited any verbal or physical behavior that was harassment against an individual based on race, age, ethnicity, sex and sexual orientation (firstamendmentcenter.org). After the speech code was included into university policy, students made claims of harassment based on this code. One student, a psychology student identified as John Doe, however, filed suit against the university on the basis that he is unable to conduct discussion on certain controversial topics in the field of biopsychology (bc.edu). He alleged that certain arguments in these discussions might offend students, as he discussed differences in biology among races and gender.

Was the University of Michigan’s policy regarding discrimination and hate speech unconstitutional because it violated First Amendment rights to free speech? Yes. The district court ruled in favor of Doe.

Reasoning – The court’s foundation in reasoning for this case relies on the assertion that the University of Michigan’s policy was too vague and extremely broad. In their decision, the district court noted that “[t]he Supreme Court has consistently held that statutes punishing speech or conduct solely on the grounds that they are unseemly or offensive are unconstitutionally overbroad” (firstamendmentcenter.org). Although the court ruled in favor of Doe, they did recognize that certain “fighting words” and other types of hate speech are not protected by the First Amendment’s right to free speech.

Personal Opinion: I agree with the court’s ruling solely on the basis that Doe should not have to worry about accusations of hate speech regarding his academic discussions. I feel that in bringing this case against university policy, Doe was being responsible and intelligent in protecting his discussions through this ruling. Possible reparations to this ruling could include defining the types of hate speech and harassment isses so that they are not perceived as broad and vague within the policy, or creating an exception excluding academic discussion from this policy. However, creating an exception to the university’s already overbroad policy would perhaps create issues of interpretation as to “what is academic speech” itself.

Shield Laws

What is it? Shield laws are laws enacted by states that attempt to protect reporters and journalists from revealing confidential sources. To date, there is no federal statute regarding shield laws – they vary from state to state. However, not every state has a shield law. In addition, state shield laws can be complete or conditional.

Update: According to an article in U.S. News dated December 2009, 36 states (including the District of Columbia) have shield laws within effect. A federal shield law has been proposed to Congress and was approved by the House of Representatives in March 2009. Senate is currently debating over the law and the issues surrounding it. You can read the full article here.

Issues: Shield laws have been a source of controversy. Hence, the varying shield laws by state and lack of federal source protection for journalists. Journalists argue that source protection is essential to newsgathering and allows them to do their job completely. Furthermore, a federal shield law would be ideal for journalists so that issues regarding differences in state shield laws could be eliminated. Opponents of these ideas have argued that shield laws are a privilege given to journalists and that court subpoenas should never be circumvented.

More Information: Here is a great, interactive resource (state-by-state) for shield law information from Poynter’s website: Journalist Shield Laws

Shouting Fire Documentary

Directed by Liz Garbus, Shouting Fire: Stories from the Edge of Free Speech is a documentary discussing controversial First Amendment freedom of speech issues. Since its debut, it has been screened at the Sundance Film Festival and aired on HBO. The video itself covers historical and current cases where freedom of speech has been the issue of debate. Attorney Martin Garbus, director Liz Garbus’ father, hosts the documentary.

Background: In 2001, Ward Churchill – then professor at University of Colorado – wrote an essay titled “On the Justice of Roosting Chickens.” This controversial essay was a piece on the September 11th attacks, in which Churchill asserted that the attacks were caused by U.S. foreign policy. Shortly thereafter, the University of Colorado began an investigation into Churchill’s essay and academic work and eventually fired him on the basis of falsification and plagiarism of research. Churchill then filed a lawsuit on the basis that he was unlawfully fired by reason of expressing unpopular views.  The University argued that Churchill was fired due to his lack of academic scholarship, not because of his 9/11 essay.

Currently: The ACLU of Colorado, AAUP and NCAC filed an amicus curiae brief regarding this case, alleging that the University’s dismissal of Churchill was a blatant violation of freedom of speech (First Amendment) rights. The ACLU posted an article on February 18th regarding this issue. They also posted the brief they submitted to the courts.

While the jury agreed that Churchill’s dismissal was based on his expression of personal opinions, the judge denied Churchill reinstatement at the University. Churchill’s essay was definitely controversial, with references to the September 11th victims as “little Eichmanns” (Adolf Eichmann was a Nazi official during WWII). His essay questions the innocence of those working in the World Trade Center prior to the attacks and calls on U.S. foreign policy as the reason why 9/11 occurred. Would these be considered hate speech? Invariably so. However, is this hate speech protected by the First Amendment? Hate speech is generally protected by the First Amendment, however this is not always the case. This case has yet to prove as another example of either side, as the debate over Churchill’s reason for dismissal was the cause for debate during trial proceedings.

University of Colorado Must Reinstate Professor Whose Free Speech Rights Were Violated

Ward Churchill v. University of Colorado, et al. – Amicus Brief (downloadable PDF)

Fairness Doctrine

This time last year, FOX news reported on the idea of a possible revival of the Fairness Doctrine. What is the Fairness Doctrine? In 1949, the FCC issued a policy that was targeted at ensuring on-air fairness. The main points of the Fairness Doctrine were that:

  • Stations must present controversial or critical topics that support the public interest
  • These topics must be covered in a fair, equal and/or truthful manner

In August 1987, after having issued a Fairness Report two years prior, the FCC repealed the Doctrine. Since then, the Fairness Doctrine has remained a topic of hot debate.

But what of it? The Fairness Doctrine was repealed because the FCC noted that it was having a “chilling effect” on free speech. Times have changed. At the same time, there are no requirements on covering controversial issues for broadcasting to date. Democratic lawmakers had suggested bringing the Fairness Doctrine back approximately a year ago under the pretense that it would balance out the amount of conservative radio talk shows with more liberal ones. According to news sources, President Obama appears to oppose this idea.

Who knows if the Fairness Doctrine will ever be reinstated. For now, it will remain a controversial topic in itself…

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