Weekly Blog #3: The New Freedom of the Press?

The Bill of Rights. The first ten amendments of the United States Constitution. The core principles that outline our fundamental rights as Americans and the foundation of our democracy: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, right to bear arms, and, among others, freedom of the press.

Freedom of the press – one the most important components of not only the first amendment of the Bill of Rights, but also considered to be one of the most essential factors in shaping our society for the past 234 years.

But with the way the media has evolved to include social media, particularly over the past decade, what does freedom of the press really mean now? Considering the fact that social media has really changed the face of news, we have to ask ourselves: does freedom of the press as it stands cover social media? Does the social web needs its own Bill of Rights? To be honest, I am not really sure whether it does – so let’s examine a few things that might help me decide.

First, according to Clay Shirky, the author of Here Comes Everybody, in this “day and age” everyone has the opportunity to be media. In fact, Chapter 3 of his book is titled “Everyone is a media outlet,” and discusses how what used to be just for media professionals is now the mass amateurization of efforts for, well, everyone. And this is true – just look at all the social forums on the web that everyday Americans use to consume and create news: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, the thousands of blogs – and those are just a few examples! I’m pretty sure  the original Freedom of the Press wasn’t initially designed for everyone as some form of media. And even though everyone having the opportunity to be media in some sense is crazy (but also great?), it’s what our society has become, so perhaps a new set of core principles DOES need to exist to basically protect the fundamental rights of the “people as the press.” But maybe not — we shall see.

Three years ago, bloggers Joe Smarr and Marc Canter created an actual bill of rights for the social web that was designed to do just that. Prominent blogger Robert Scoble also signed on to the support the principles of the document, which, given his status in the blogosphere, was apparently a big deal. The three key parts of the bill of rights were:

  1. Ownership of our own personal information.
  2. Control of whether and how such personal information is used.
  3. Freedom to grant persistent access to our personal info.

Do these define what should be considered to be the “new” freedom of the press? I can see how they could, and even how they SHOULD, and I think it’s a great idea in theory, and considerig the things I wrote about above. But ultimately I think I am leaning toward agreeing with Scoble when he said that the real problem is that most people just don’t care about this. Maybe it’s unfortunate, but most likely, it’s true. And if most people now have the opportunity to be a media outlet, and they have that view, then I don’t see how a bill of rights for the social web could actually work – because it likely wouldn’t even be appreciated, or followed, for that matter.

That said, maybe the original freedom of the press doesn’t actually need to encompass social media specifically – and maybe a new bill of rights to cover the social web does not need to exist simply because the press has essentially become an entirely different entity. I conducted some research on what the freedom of the press currently entails under the first amendment of the Constitution, and it looks like it has been updated to include “electronic” media — at least according to Wikipedia, anyway. While it’s unclear whether this also includes social media, perhaps we are trying too hard and just need to consider that the original Bill of Rights already covers the new freedom of the press

It appears that the new “people as the press” will likely always be able to operate under the basic freedoms that America allows.

Until next week —


About Jessie Gillman

This blog was created for my social media class as part of my graduate program in PR and communications at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. In addition to being a grad student, I am a PR/comm professional at Environics Communications where I focus on clean energy/environmental issues, education and women's health. I am also a huge book lover, an avid traveler, a big Philly sports fanatic, and I love Yoga.
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