First Amendment Values and a Voice for Everyone

In the 40 years since The Media Institute began, it’s difficult to recall a national environment quite like the one we’re in today.

Basic principles of free speech are being challenged in multiple ways and by multiple forces: foreign governments distorting the “truth” through social media, and varying outlets promoting wildly disparate views of the “news.”  Divisiveness and contention are at an all-time high in our politics and our national discourse. 

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First Amendment Still Shines During Toughest of Times

Two hundred and thirty-one years ago this week, Congress passed a collection of amendments to the U.S. Constitution, 10 of which would become the Bill of Rights.  Foremost in the Bill of Rights is the First Amendment, which allows Americans to worship how they please, speak their minds openly, and have their voices heard by their government.

Our Founding Fathers, in their infinite wisdom, also included in the First Amendment the right to a free press.  They understood that our democracy could not survive without the freedom to report the news without fear or favor.  The times may have changed; that principle has not.

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Early Voting Brings New Media Challenges In Advertising and Editorial Endorsements

From shifting commercial placements to premature newspaper endorsements, this year’s early balloting procedures are having a massive effect on media operations.  Political strategists are figuring out how and more importantly when to place ads in this unprecedented season of extensive early voting. 

The Halloween weekend deluge of campaign ads just before Election Day on Nov. 3 may be meaningless if up to half of voters have already cast their ballots.  In a related vein, the ripple effect of advertising decisions also affects ad timing for down-ballot races, where voters may need more coaxing.

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Privacy Policy Research Deserves a Much Wider Audience

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) hosted its fifth annual PrivacyCon on July 21, 2020.  This was the first time the one-day conference was fully remote, rather than in person at the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection in Washington, D.C.

PrivacyCon should not be confused with Comic-Con, the annual pop culture extravaganza that began the following day with over 350 virtual panels extending over nearly a week.  Perhaps the thousands who show up there each year in San Diego with colorful costumes will not miss a beat as they turn on their Zoom cameras to participate in a way never imagined when this year’s Comic-Con was organized.

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Cancel Culture Is Techno Tyranny

Hyper partisan politics and our divided nation make it easier than ever to vilify anyone, any time, in any way.  In the words of Michael Corleone, “If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything, it is that you can kill anyone.”

Used figuratively here, of course, but that is what cancel culture has wrought in today’s society.

While cancellation may seek to stifle speech, it causes social and economic destruction as well.  It projects permanence and public shame for its targets whether deserved or not.  And it promotes a kind of techno tyranny against which we all should be vigilant.

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Ending the Media Versus Police Tumult

Whatever happens with police reform legislation in Congress, there is no reason to expect that protection of reporters and media will figure into the proposed “best practices” of how journalists should be treated during tense and often violent situations such as we’ve seen in the past month.  Generalized protections already exist in the First Amendment, but as the brutal incidents of the past month show, law enforcement officers can recklessly bypass those enshrined barriers.

A slew of reports – some of them admittedly self-pitying – emerged in recent weeks with frightening details about how print and electronic journalists have been attacked by law enforcement officers.  It appears that sometimes reporters were singled out as they sought to cover the protests and demonstrations that erupted around the world after George Floyd’s death-by-knee in Minneapolis.

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Deploying U.S. AI Leadership for COVID-19

Among the cutting-edge technologies being employed by public health experts to map various aspects of COVID-19 both at home and abroad, artificial intelligence (AI) faces a test under life-and-death circumstances.  The ability of AI systems to undertake pattern detection and predict the spread of the pandemic and its treatments is promising.  The benefit of machine learning includes its powerful ability to analyze historic data to find key variables.  This task is dependent upon humans, however, specifically in the ability of data scientists who can work on creating data sets that supercomputers then can model.  On a global basis, this will require pooling both technical and human resources.

Given the unprecedented nature of COVID-19, historic data inputted for AI analysis may be of limited value.  Real-time data comparing growth curves in countries around the world, along with population and demographic information by neighborhood, may prove to be a better vein for producing actionable data anywhere and everywhere.  Automated machine learning also may improve the efficiency of data scientists, enabling them to focus on new data generation while relying on computer-to-computer analysis of massive-scale number crunching.

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Can Big Tech Be Reined In by Rules It Consistently Breaks?

Well informed observers of the tech industry have cautioned against two things: economic downturn and government regulation.  Each had a palpable sense of the inevitable – not a matter of if, but when.  As we enter 2020, the conditions for both are present, if not altogether ripe.

Dire predictions of a global recession have been hovering over the economy for several quarters.  But low interest rates, strong consumer spending, and investor confidence have kept the economy buoyant.  The new China trade deal and record-high NASDAQ belie economic woes.

If this election year turns out like others, the economy will hum along through the first two quarters, then decelerate as we head into November.  If an economic slowdown were to occur, it would owe as much to politics as to recessionary pressure.  And even that might recede if the president gets re-elected.

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The Challenge of Harnessing Change in a Global Economy

As the news media know better than anyone, the great story of our times is change – dramatic, accelerating, and often disruptive change.

The key question is whether our economy, our educational institutions, and our system of democratic self-government can harness this change for everyone’s benefit – or whether the tidal wave of change will overrun us.

To meet the challenges of change, we must think big and act boldly.  Our growing divisions, however – our self-selecting news bubbles, the tribalization of our politics, the noxious contempt each side has for the other – are making it harder to solve big problems.  The environment is certainly not conducive to serious dialogue or to constructive problem solving.

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The 5G Privacy Opportunity

The Federal Communications Commission announced on Sept. 16 that it would be granting experimental licenses for companies in New York City and Salt Lake City to test new advanced technologies and networks in specific geographic areas.

This initiative, dubbed Innovation Zones, will be especially useful in testing various technologies in real-world settings that will support 5G wireless networks.  These networks will offer a range of advanced wireless services nationwide, with initial rollout in urban centers where spatial and population density makes technical and economic sense.

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