Week 6: The First Amendment and “Fake News” Post Due: Wed. Oct. 13

Hi Students,

Nice work interviewing your fellow students.   I’ve made comments for all of you on your documents (if you uploaded a PDF, I created a googledocs file you can review).  Please finish your revisions by (at which point I will give you a grade).  See GRADEBOOK link to the right. In general, be sure to provide a captivating title and a good photo or two. Also make sure your introduction brings out key characteristics of your interviewee. I’ve also copyedited your pieces, so also review and correct any punctuation and sentence errors I highlighted (part of being a good journalist is producing relatively “clean”, catchy copy “on deadline.”)  You will generally have an editor make varied corrections, cuts, and suggestions.  My central suggestion to all of you as journalists is to provide LOTS of KEY details (pertinent to your subject matter) to fully bring your writing to life.  Here is an excellent interview of Sean Saurez produced by Keyri that you can use for a model.

This week’s topic builds on our conversation of the critical role of the press (or fourth estate) for maintaining a vibrant democracy.  To review, the press needs to 1) offer a wide marketplace of ideas, perspectives, and information to help citizens make informed decisions. 2) The press needs to inform the public about “what matters” (i.e. what they SHOULD be paying attention to). 3) It needs to serve as a “watchdog” of politicians, businesses, and institutions. 4) It needs to inform readers about important people, places, and events across the racial and social spectrum and 5) it needs to mobilize readers/viewers to “thought” and “action.”  Let’s add one more: 6) IT NEEDS TO TELL THE TRUTH AND PROVIDE FACT-BASED, VERIFIABLE EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT ITS CLAIMS

Because of its importance, the right to a free press (and the freedom of speech) is enshrined in our First Amendment from the American Constitution, approved by all the states in 1789:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

It’s interesting to note that freedom of speech and of the press are crunched together with other related rights: the practice of one’s religion, the right to assemble (protest) in the streets, and the right to tell the President he’s a jerk (!)

What I want you to think about this week is how well the First Amendment is (and has been) put into practice.

Do Americans have the legal right to criticize our government (and leaders of other countries)?  Yes we do.  This right was severely tested, however, when Julian Assange created a site called Wikileaks in 2010.

Since its inception, Wikileaks offers a platform to give whistleblowers a platform to expose hidden truths about various governments and institutions around the world.

Consequently, WikiLeaks has attracted a great deal of controversy from leaders and news organizations around the globe because the information it publishes usually creates a great deal of embarrassment and difficulty for international relations.  Most famously, in 2010, WikiLeaks released evidence suggesting U.S. forces committed violations of international law during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2016, it released leaked emails that revealed campaign strategies and internal memos within Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign that may have cost her the election.

It’s important to keep in mind that it is not legal for WikiLeaks sources to steal secret documents and submit classified documents to the site. However, thanks to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, it is legal for WikiLeaks to publish these documents and share them with the public. It is also perfectly legal for you to read information found on WikiLeaks.  Despite First Amendment protections, founder Julian Assange is currently in a London prison, and American officials are dying to get their hands on him – and charge him with something to put him in jail (and shut down his site).  Here’s a trailer for an excellent film on the story and impact of Julian Assange and Wikileaks called “We Steal Secrets”.

Just yesterday, another investigative site (the Pandora Papers) posted highly embarrassing information on how the leader of Jordan and other wealthy people across the globe hide their vast fortunes from the public eye.  This is investigative journalism certainly doing “its job” as a watchdog. (Can you explain why doing so is so important?)

Does the First Amendment allow FAKE NEWS?  Facebook (and Twitter) famously allowed the spread of false information during Donald Trump’s presidency but finally kicked him off their sites for lying about the election results (that Biden didn’t win) and generally riling up his supporters with false assertions (leading to the Capitol riots).  More recently, we learn that for a long time Facebook has allowed false reports about the Covid Vaccine. Read: Covid Misinformation on Facebook is Killing People. (Can you delve more into this problem?)

What one is allowed to say and publish has been under constant scrutiny since our nation was first established.  The same is true with the ever-presence and danger of Fake News. Please watch the fun video below, to see how Fake News was an issue even during the Revolutionary Era. It’s also a good overview of our first media outlets (before CNN, Facebook, and Twitter).

POST ASSIGNMENT: In a paragraph (or two), post a comment on one of the above readings and/or videos (you could follow up on some of the questions I ask). In your post, try to also provide an example of your own, either of an interesting case involving the First Amendment (freedom of speech/press) or a case of “Fake News” that has gone viral . Due Wednesday, Oct. 13.


  1. Mark Noonan

    Rachel posts:
    (Can you explain why investigative reporting is so important?)
    It is important because it has given massive information and detail as a the journalist, and explaining Jordan and other wealthy people’s motives on money. The journalist is most definitely doing well on their job as a watchdog getting information and details from the interviewee. It is also important to publish it out in public and expose the former leaders from hiding their secret and King Abdullah is one of the former leader who use secret shell company to hide his wealth. This also include exposing other dozens of current and former leaders whose overseas investments were exposed. For example, Prime Minister Andrej Babis of the Czech Republic, who is said to have bought property in the south of France using a complicated offshore structure. Some former leaders also avoid paying taxes, like Tony Blair for example, he’s the former British prime minister, who avoided paying taxes worth more than $400,000 when he and his wife Cherie take over London’s property by purchasing the offshore company that owned it. These are very important information that can catch readers and audience’s views on what their former leaders are up to.

    2. Does the First Amendment allow FAKE NEWS? Facebook (and Twitter) famously allowed the spread of false information during Donald Trump’s presidency but finally kicked him off their sites for lying about the election results (that Biden didn’t win) and generally riling up his supporters with false assertions (leading to the Capitol riots).

    The First Amendment stated that it allows freedom of speech. This is the statement: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. The whole purpose of the freedom of speech is to speak what’s on your mind and speaking up on your own beliefs and opinions on the certain situation. But the government stated that it no one was ever allow to slander or spread false information about someone else that isn’t true. So, no the First Amendment doesn’t allow “Fake News,” and one of the example was about Mr. Trump. He posted a video on January 6th, and it is a stoked violence and it posed a risk to public safety. Basically what he posted was “We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election,” Mr. Trump falsely claimed in a video posted to Facebook. This post caused chaos between Trump supporters and Biden supporters that the Facebook have to ban Trump and block all his post and his account, because he violated the safety policy of Facebook. This is an example text that support the First Amendment will not allow fake news posted, and that includes other fake news, not just in Facebook, but other website, social media platform, or place to publish the news.

    • Mark Noonan

      Excellent discussion of the role of “watchdog” journalism and example of the dangers of fake news, Rachel.

  2. Mark Noonan

    One thing I found interesting about the video was that James was able to point out everything that was fake about the news paper. For example, he mentioned that the there was no top fold with the latest breaking news story. He also mentioned that some of the statements in the news paper was fake news such as Benjamin and Rachel Cooper who testified that soldiers fired 100 bullets into their home while two middle aged men were brutally murdered by the soldiers. Turns out that none of that was true. It amazes me how far people would take fake news to a certain extent even during the Revolutionary Era.

    • Mark Noonan

      Good point, Ruqayyah, about the extent to which Revolutionary Era newspapers would go to falsify the facts. Certainly, this problem has been around from the start though it does seem to be an enormous problem again today. So who/how do we trust?

  3. Melissa Dos Santos

    Last week produced some interesting news stories. The Pandora Papers, quite frankly, fell flat – no prominent American nor politician was listed. Offshore banking isn’t illegal. Are we surprised South Dakota and Delaware are tax havens? Is it revelatory that a Middle Eastern monarch is corrupt? Or oligarchs and political figures in Ukraine and Russia? Aside from the Czech prime minister resigning, no other figure seems to be affected. Banking institutions such as HSBC – charged with laundering drug money in 2012 (resulting in settlement of $1.9 billion), have dubious banking practices, and political influence was not mentioned. Nor were other banking institutions from the City of London (article regarding City of London’s role in offshore banking: https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/sep/07/the-real-goldfinger-the-london-banker-who-broke-the-world). Just like the Panama Papers before, Pandora fell short.

    Truly amazing still was Frances Haugen’s appearance as a Facebook “whistleblower.” A red carpet treatment aided by fancy DC lawyers and a PR firm – that once employed Jen Psaki – calling for more censorship in the name of “combating disinformation” on primetime news programs such as 60 Minutes and a Senate Committee hearing. Are discussions that contradict the CDC “misinformation?” Why are those skeptical of COVID guidance labeled “domestic terrorists” when politicians and the elite flaunt the mandates so blatantly? As citizens, are we not allowed to question authority? Moreover, the Biden administration’s campaign pledge was to unify the country. Divisive comments from the White House such as: “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” “protecting the vaccinated from the unvaccinated,” undermine public confidence in the vaccines and public health.

    Several pundits have asked this: Who checks the fact-checkers? Why is public trust in news media so low? (https://news.gallup.com/poll/355526/americans-trust-media-dips-second-lowest-record.aspx)

    Please excuse my skepticism of this so-called whistleblower when whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden – living in exile in Russia – Julian Assange rotting in prison for embarrassing the United States government. Neither did Daniel Ellsberg “suffer” the same fate as Haugen after leaking the Pentagon Papers in the final years of the Vietnam War.

    As the video from the American Antiquarian shows us, “fake news” has been around since the founding of the United States. The First Amendment allows for all speech unless it “incites imminent lawless action” (Brandenburg v. Ohio 1969). Johnathan Turley says the answer to speech that you don’t agree with or offends you is “more speech even during our age of rage,” not suppression. As a civil libertarian, it is a view I wholeheartedly agree believe.

    • Melissa Dos Santos

      Agree and* believe.

    • Mark Noonan

      Melissa, You voice refreshing commentary on the challenge of making the best of our cherished First Amendment. Your points are revelatory. What is really accomplished when information is revealed but no one really seems to care that much? A strong fourth estate is pointless if the other estates (3 branches of gov’t and public opinion) are not in full working order themselves. I particularly like your line about the circled wagons around Haugen “calling for more censorship in the name of ‘combating disinformation’.” The customizing of who is allowed “free speech” and just what news is “fake news” are complicated concepts indeed, as you so deftly explore.

  4. Jasmine

    In reading the article what I had found interesting is that the own king was trying to connect with his people by portraying honesty and then getting caught by lying through journalist. They had went and did extensive amount of research that the king of Jordan tried to conceal a vast amount of money from his people by hiding it away is shell accounts. The king was trying to get rid of corruption within the people, who used the same shell companies, to stop hiding away their overseas business. Journalist from Washington post and the Guardian uncovered that the king and 35 current and former officials including 300 public officials used offshore shell companies to hide their wealth and transfer it overseas. In my eyes that’s very deceiving to his people because he’s not even following the own rules that he implemented. For the journalists that found this out I’d say they did an amazing job bring factual information to the public. They did not just say a statement and expect people to believe them, they found the necessary documents and bought it forward to the public. This investigative journalism is doing its job as a “watch dog”. It is important to be a “watch dog” because not only do people know the truth but as a moral integrity of being a journalist. People can choose to spread and let fake news continue or put it to an end with what’s true and in my opinion that is what a journalist is supposed to do, if not say their own version of the story with the facts and letting the people choose if they want to listen to hem or not.

    In my opinion I feel that the First Amendment does allow fake news, because we have a right of freedom of speech, press, and to peacefully assemble. In the video it goes on to show how fake news was spread before present time today. In the video the speaker shows a newspaper of The Spy by Isaiah Thomas. When speaking of Thomas he goes on to say that he was vastly dramatizing certain events. Such as the shot heard around the world, he went in the paper say how the British fired the first shot when really nobody knew who fired it. This can cause controversy among the people if they chose to believe that. They would have treated the British poorly and started wrongful fights with them. Fake news can cause a great deal of trouble for people.

    • Mark Noonan

      Excellent points Jasmine on how “watchdog” journalism can expose leaders such as the King of Jordan of their corruption and hypocrisy. Your point about how the First Amendment seems to allow “fake news” is an interesting one. Maybe our concern should more be on being critical consumers of news.

  5. sergio tello

    While reading both articles ” facebook bans trump for atleast two years” and ” covid misinformation on facebook is killing people-Biden” It does show that the first amendement does allow room for fake news to be spread. I say this because as I was reading the article the reason facebook decided to ban trump was because of his posts where he was exercising his first amendement. In his posts from Jan 6 he posted saying ” we had an election that was stolen from us, it was landside election”. This then allowed room for violence to break out in the U.S capitol because as any supporters would, they would believe the person whom which they follow. By allowing a person to speak their what they want it invocates others to believe certain words because they cannot differentiate right from wrong. Although they removed the videos, as the article stated, it just encourages more violence, whether it’d be verbally or physically, because they see it as a violation of their rights when they removed these posts.

    In the other article it further shows this but through another example which is a whole network of social media providing misleading information. Throughout the whole pandemic people who watched the news, or were constantly on social media for ” updates” reguarding the virus, got so easily influenced and ” manipulated” into believing false news because people were expressing how they felt, and what they thought about the virus. Sometimes people are so misinformed and become naive into believing what others say instead of going out their way to figure out some truth’s or anything that backs up what others say. There have been multiple times when I am on social media and there are so many videos for example of private journalist, recording the outside of military bases from a public road or property, where they are approached to leave because they cant do that and they start exercising their first amendment without realizing how suspicious it can look from the inside for a random person to be recording.

    • Mark Noonan

      Excellent analysis, Sergio, of the dangers of “fake news” and “false statements” which, in the case of President Trump’s followers, did lead to violence and a distrust of the election results. Your example of false news circulating throughout the pandemic is also excellent. Why has it taken so long for so many Americans to become vaccinated, for example? Who ultimately is responsible when fake news actually “kills”?

  6. Darnell Black

    After watching that 10 min clip above that told the story about the fake news in Boston I learned many different things. However one thing I learned that I found important was that fake news can crucially essential to the creation and maintenance of a Nation. I found that point interesting and important because he’s basically telling the listener it’s okay to lie.
    Also an interesting recent case of fake news that stuck out to me was a picture of Democratic senators huddling without masks is from 2018, not 2020. But the picture was of course posted in 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. This picture caused a somewhat social media uproar in 2020 which is just the common outcome of fake news nowadays.

    • Mark Noonan

      Great reading Darnell of early Revolutionary Era propaganda. Governments and media will always have their reasons to “slant” the facts (to get what they want); furthermore, an absence of any kind of “bias” is probably not even possible. I had not heard about the falsification of the “mask” photograph but it’s a good example of manipulation of the news.

  7. Chala

    Facebook is a large platform that millions of people use today . Facebook and Twitter people share their thoughts and express their opinions daily . False information on social media can be very harmful to a person’s reputation. Word of mouth means a lot today especially with all the people who use social media today . If a business reputation is put down by many people and not many people say good things about the business the business can be shut down . That’s how many businesses lose money especially by things such as racism for example . Many people fight for their rights and protest and express their feelings. Not only the people who have high role positions are the only ones who matter, that’s why many people take time to express their feelings because our feelings matter. Fake News is unacceptable. People need to know the truth and not false information. Many people should be slow to speak if they do not have the correct information to tell.

    • Mark Noonan

      You make a great point about the incredible size and power of Facebook, Chala, as well as its power to destroy. Your line is an important one: “False information on social media can be very harmful to a person’s reputation.” Let’s use our social media tools responsibly.

  8. Mosche C.

    I feel like “Fake News” goes viral a lot now that many people feel free to share their opinions and beliefs on various social media networks. Of course, some people do share things that are not true which results in either more “Fake News” or fear (ex: the beginning of the COVID-19 era). The beginning of 2020 was different and maybe unusual for many of us and I think that is when a lot of us saw a larger number of fake news going around. Someone told me recently that Facebook (for example) doesn’t have an algorithm to detect when false information is being spread, and I could see how that could be an issue. People say “don’t believe everything that you see online” and it’s so true and relevant moreso at this time because of all of the politics and scientific issues and concerns that the U.S. is going through right now.

    • Mark Noonan

      Interesting reply Mosche. It does sound like you are arguing that we can’t control what goes on on Social Media but we can – and should – be critical media consumers, so that “fake news” gets stopped in its tracks.

  9. Jimenez

    The media is a place where they are constantly providing information that must be fact checked because we aren’t sure if it’s credible or not. When it comes to this country, the United States media doesn’t enforce the practices of the First Amendment. If anything this Pandemic has taught us is that our freedom is limited to access according to the laws that want to be used against us. I do feel as though Americans have a right to criticize the American government because that’s what we supposedly stand by. Freedom of speech. We supposedly have this and we are a Democracy for that reason. We “elect” and place people into positions of power for that exact reason. Since “We are the People” , we should have a right and say towards our own government. I do believe the media allows “FAKE NEWS”, but they apply these things according to how they desire the laws to be manipulated either for or against.

    • Mark Noonan

      Very good discussion on the importance of our right to speak out.

  10. Daniel

    After watching the article, we can establish that Fake News can be present everywhere in social media, it has revolutionized the generation of information in our world today and I do believe that information involving Congress, COVID-19 or anything that goes on into the world that has been passed on to social media platforms should be looked at more often, whether or not what we write, we have the right to say whatever we want to say but its more of being attentive and careful with what and how we say it before writing something down that could pose risks. At this point, technology has taken over, and we’re going to keep living with fake news if nothing could be done, it’s not safe for communities. Facebook itself allows someone to express their own ideas and feelings in a post, sometimes when I go on Facebook I see a lot of fake pages, pages engaging people to join their business to make money or entering information in terms of them giving you what you want in exchange for the information you provided them, these articles taught me to always be aware of what’s put online and being careful with what to say, do not believe in everything that goes on online. It’s not all about saying something that can be right or wrong, at the end of the day you are giving your own opinion and hearing what others have to say, and respecting one’s ideas.

    • Mark Noonan

      Excellent commentary that gels well with the point I’m hoping to make this week about our need to be ever-vigilant in consuming the news. Your examples are spot on.

  11. Sean Suarez

    According to the American Constitution, the First Amendment states that the people have freedom of speech, freedom of press and the right to assemble and petition peacefully. Regardless of these protections the founder of Wikileaks is currently in a London jail for making government secrets public. I feel that it is the peoples legal right to be informed of their government’s doings, regardless of how the government feels. The government was made for the people, by the people, hence the people should be informed of what their government is doing in their name. Wikileaks was doing its duty by informing the people of the government’s doings.

    In the trailer “We Steal Secrets” a soldier is contained because he was leaking army documents and classified information. This information was made public on Wikileaks where the government believed it is dangerous for certain information to be made public. I believe that the government should not withhold information from its people. I believe full transparency is required by the government so that the people can choose if they want to side with the government or go against it. They were doing their duty to be a watchdog of the government. It clearly states freedom of press in the constitution, and free speech.

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