MC 4301 Media Law & Ethics

Response To "The State of the First Amendment: 2019"

The Freedom Forum Institute published its annual report for 2019 regarding a survey of the public's knowledge about the First Amendment. The survey reviews how Americans feel about the First Amendment's guarantee of freedoms concerning press, religion, speech, assembly and petition. They discovered that the public has generally become more knowledgeable about rights under the First Amendment over the past year. 71% of participants correctly name at least one First Amendment right, compared to only 60% in the 2018 survey results. Out of all the 1,007 participants, only six were able to name all five freedoms. Additionally, participants with more education could more easily remember the freedom of speech, religion and assembly.

Even though public awareness has increased, many people hold erroneous beliefs about the First Amendment. 65% agreed that social media companies violate users' First Amendment rights when they ban users based on objectionable content they post. A great example of this is conservatives' recent claim that Facebook and Twitter are censoring free speech. These platforms are private companies, and as such, they can have whatever content they want. Additionally, Section 230 of the U.S. Code protects private blocking and screening of offensive material. Of course, this could change with further legislation over the internet, which is considered a public resource. However, this has nothing to do with the First Amendment.

Surprisingly, 77% of respondents agreed that misinformation on the internet and the spread of fake news are severe threats to democracy. Most agreed that it is essential for our democracy that the news media act as a watchdog on government. This attitude is especially refreshing since "fake news" seems to be the right-wing's battle cry. The worst thing that could happen is an erosion of the public's trust in journalism and the broader media industry.

Another alarming discovery is that 29% of people agreed that the First Amendment went too far. People seem not to understand how First Amendment freedoms apply to their daily lives. An example of this is hate speech. No one likes it, but it is protected from government censorship unless it incites lawless action. The right to say some truly awful things goes along with our right to be independent thinkers and challenge authority in ways other parts of the world would never allow.

Another revealing data-point surrounds freedom from religion. 82% of participants agreed that the First Amendment should protect all religious groups, including minority worshippers and those considered extreme or fringe. Again, this is a refreshing revelation since many people refuse to believe Islam is equal to Christianity, and there have been instances of communities denying Muslims the right to build mosques in this country. While this report sheds light on a few disturbing American attitudes like the First Amendment is too overreaching or social media violates freedom of speech, it revealed a great deal of hope for our nation. People have a greater awareness of their rights. There is still trust in journalism. All people have the right to practice any religion, or none at all. The First Amendment is the work-horse of our democracy. It continually challenges our society and underscores what it means to be an American.

MC 4301 Media Law & Ethics

Response to the Freedom House article, "The Pandemic's Digital Shadow"

According to a report published by The Freedom House, a non-profit seeking to defend global human rights and promote democratic change, the pandemic is serving as a convenient cover to countries wanting to restrict personal freedoms. They discovered that while global internet freedom has declined for the last 10 years, this year that declined has accelerated due to the pandemic. This decline is due to countries exploiting the pandemic to censor speech, limit access to information and create new technologies for social control. In addition, the pandemic has made surveillance technology a necessary condition for countries to track COVID-19 cases.

Political leaders around the world are using the pandemic to curtail free expression. One may think that this response could only be happening in third world countries or countries operating under dictators, but surprisingly semi-democratic countries are under an information lockdown. For example, the Egyptian military is using the pandemic to repress political activists, lawyers, and journalists by arresting or threatening arrest. They also threaten jail to health care workers who express concerns over the lack of proper safety precautions and personal protective equipment. In fact, it is now illegal to report on the pandemic unless it is in support of the governments' policies.

Information availability can make the difference between life and death in normal times. During the pandemic, this is exponential. However, there are a multitude of countries blocking websites and deleting information off the internet. These countries are trying to suppress important health statistics and basic COVID-19 prevention measures. In China, where the outbreak began, censorship is described as "sophisticated and systematic." Instead of a rush to control the spread of a dangerous virus, it chose to control the media narrative to set the world at ease. Using thousands of keywords, moderators for the social media platform WeChat automatically deleted content. The lowest man on the government totem pole tends to be the small community leaders. These are the people who were the first to understand that there was a contagious virus going around. These are also the people most in fear of their communist government and through that fear, decided to try to contain the virus on their own. When it became unmanageable, the government responded by pretending that it wasn't as bad as it appeared. This response is reminiscent of Russia's Chernobyl disaster.

Contact tracing has shown that gatherings, large and small, contribute to the spread of the virus, which is often seeded by one person. New containment strategies are created regularly to curb the spread while keeping the economy afloat. Who is considered "essential" and what risk-benefit calculations tell us about what activities should be prohibited? So, why not use personal cell phone data to create a surveillance network? This idea is exactly what scientists did with the summer's annual Sturgis Rally. The statistical data revealed that the rally led to an estimated 260,000 new COVID-19 cases or roughly 19% of new infections recorded in the US between August and September. How could a technology this important hog-tie the First Amendment? Much like the Patriot Act created after the 9/11 terrorist attack, surveillance technology used to "protect" citizens often has the effect of weakening our rights by allowing government access to potentially confidential information. Once laws or seemingly legal tactics are used, it's very difficult to retract them and, over time, people forget about their animosity for these intrusions on their rights.

A democracy doesn't just swoop in and remove the people's rights. They do it by slowly chipping away little pieces of the First Amendment in the name of public safety. It's a difficult argument. I'm mostly in the camp of, "Who cares, I have nothing to hide." But that's not the point, is it? The global outlook is bleak, but hopefully leaders in democracies will come to the forefront and be the voice of reason. I'm very hopeful with the election of Joe Biden. Not just because I think he will be good for the country, but because he is averse to fringe ideology and takes a moderate look at the country and the world at large. I have no doubt he will invest in a pandemic task force that will benefit the entire world. At the same time, we should all consider the words of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, “The pandemic has resulted in previously unimaginable restrictions on individual liberty. It is an indisputable statement of fact, we have never before seen restrictions as severe, extensive and prolonged as those experienced for most of 2020.”

MC 4328 Digital Media Innovation Capstone

Idea Pitch: "Swing & Feed"

Researchers discovered it takes up to 1,000 years for a golf ball to decompose. Combined with the estimated 300 million balls lost each year just in the United States, we are talking about billions of golf balls! As the balls degrade, they leach out chemicals and microplastics into the earth, and wildlife ingest all that plastic. But what if the approximately 24 million golfers in America could play their beloved game and give back to the planet? They can with Swing & Feed!

Working closely with environmental scientists, we developed a biodegradable polymer ball that dissolves and feeds wildlife – Losing your ball is literally for the birds!

Once Swing & Feed golf balls are left on the ground or in the water, they begin to biodegrade, and within 48 hours in the water or two weeks on the ground, the outer shell dissolves completely, exposing fish food or birdseed. Swing & Feed's performance has the Strike-feel, accuracy and distance of a premium golf ball.

Market potential is boundless considering all the core variations: Freshwater and saltwater fish food or birdseed made with milo, millet, cracked corn or sunflower seeds. Market expansion is guaranteed with the addition of cores filled with plant seed. Viable distribution outlets can range from sporting goods, pet and feed stores.

Give a whole new meaning to "Fore!" with Swing & Feed!

MC 1313 Media Writing

Press Release: "Central Market introduces tips for holiday shopping"

Dec. 25, 2018 (SAN ANTONIO, Texas) Texas-based Central Market introduces consumer-friendly shopping tips for the holidays. The specialty foods retailer, known for Texas-based gourmet food shopping, will feature shopping tips in various Texas magazine publications and the website.

Jessica Garcia, Service Manager for the San Antonio location, says shoppers can easily navigate the holidays by visiting the website and taking advantage of knowledgeable staff at the information desk and so-called "foodies" throughout the store.

"Foodies are trained food experts that assist customers with recipe solutions, special dietary needs and little-known food facts," Jessica said. "The information desk has a diagram of the store which is very helpful for making shopping lists that are easy to follow."

Shopping tips include how to develop an organized shopping list, when is the best time to shop, how to shop comfortably and what types of special request items a customer can ask for from the meat department to the floral department.

Central Market, the gourmet grocery store division of H-E-B, first opened in Austin in 1994. The unique food galleria quickly gained popularity as a destination for professional chefs and fine food lovers. Central Market's goal is to foster the community's passion for an all-inclusive food shopping experience.

MC 4326 Advanced Social Media

"The Pace Center" Content Assignment: "4 Ways to Make the Most of Your First Year in College"

#1. Yes, you really should go to class. To some, this is a no-brainer, but it's one of the most overlooked ways to get a good grade. If attendance is mandatory, you could potentially fail a class for not going. Lots of times, instructors will give extra credit just for attending a class! Going to class, taking notes, and paying attention is the foundation for doing well in college. Here's a tip: Lots of instructors will have pop quizzes when attendance is low on a particular day, so make sure to attend class on days known for low turnout.

#2. Join a study group. Being around individuals who are working just as hard as you will keep you motivated. If there is something that confuses you in the class, then you can collaborate with each other in the study group. Joining a study group will help you be prepared for the test in that particular class. Another great reason to join a study group is to make friends as well, people come together when they share a common goal.

#3. Try new and exciting things. Learn to play guitar, learn a new language, go out to a concert of your favorite music artist, or pick up a good book. It could be anything of your choosing. Starting a new hobby can be a great stress reliever and character builder. It can also help you learn new things that you probably never had thought of trying. You can volunteer to help the community you live in thrive; this can help you find yourself by serving others who are less fortunate. These activities show future employers that you are a well-rounded person and not just a student.

#4. Run, don't walk to the PACE Center! After orientation, this should be your next stop. It's your go-to place for academic advising, mentoring, academic coaching, career exploration, and just about everything else related to new student life. Whether it's helping to jump-start your social life or writing a resume, PACE can get you pointed in the right direction.

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