We all come with pre-packaged biases. Sometimes those biases are socialized into unwelcome, even dangerous perspectives. As an editor working in a newsroom my fellow editors and I educated our reporters to recognize their biases. Working together, we weeded through the biases; we edited down to just the facts, as much as was humanly possible. We knew our news consumers could benefit most when we offered a thorough presentation of fair and unbiased facts. The group dynamic in a newspaper’s newsroom–trained journalists holding one another accountableprovides significant checks and balances. Andrea

 

Oxford Dictionaries chose post-truth as its 2016 Word of the Year.

It defines the word this way:

“an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief'.”

 

As we study mass media in the 21st century here at Cotton Wolf, we research its transformation under the weight of technology and in a converged global village. We focus on the opportunities technology affords the Fourth Estate, and consider its crucial role in society as “alternative facts” masquerading as truth seek to sway public opinion and policy. This misinformation is often launched from anonymous corners of the Internet protected by technology cloaks.

Our goal is to continually prove the beneficial role of the Fourth Estate in an era of global disruption when the flow of critical, factual information is challenged.

Anonymity, Transparency and Technology

 

Politico Editor-in-Chief John F. Harris joined “The Daily Show’s” Trevor Noah on June 20, 2017 to discuss how Politico is managing its coverage of the Trump White House. Mr. Harris answered questions regarding the challenges of covering a president that is at once secretive and transparent. He also discussed utilization of anonymous sources.

 

The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Ethics Committee has published a position paper on the ethical challenges involved in utilization of anonymous sources, a must-read for all journalists.

 

The idea of working within an anonymous environment becomes more complicated as technology evolves. The New York Times published, “Using Texts as Lures, Government Spyware Targets Mexican Journalists and Their Families” on June 19, 2017 detailing one of the latest examples of 21st century technology running afoul of its claimed intention, allegedly training a government’s power on journalists and activists potentially considered critics of the government.

 

How can journalists help citizens recognize when technology and the rules or laws regulating it limit access to the free flow of information? It’s helpful to begin with a clear understanding of what entities within our own country regulate the flow of information.

 

FREEDOM OF SPEECH

 

Net Neutrality and the First Amendment

 

At what point in their evolution did Internet Service Providers (ISPs) gain editorial discretion? It is a remarkable thing to ponder … the current behemoths of capitalism making editorial decisions as if they were the educated, experienced, and accountable editors in legitimate mainstream newsrooms across America? The answer apparently rests with Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.

 

Bringing cases designed for the leaning of a particular Supreme Court is an old tactic; it’s fair to say it’s a staple of the judicial system. President Trump’s nominee to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy is himself a part of this aspect of the judicial machine. As a D.C. Circuit Judge, according to Time magazine, Kavanaugh objected to a rehearing of a challenge to the Federal Communications Commission’s net neutrality rule. According to the story, “Kavanaugh wrote that the court’s view violated the Internet Service Providers’ First Amendment right by restricting their ‘editorial discretion.’”

 

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed the open internet rules in December 2017 causing the net neutrality rules to expire on June 11, 2018. This handed vast new powers to internet providers to block, throttle or offer paid “fast lanes” for web traffic.

 

For months concerned citizens and organizations have been pressuring Congress to re-consider the effects of the repeal, using a law called the Congressional Review Act, which permits Congress to revisit—and reject—decisions by administrative agencies within a certain window of their approval. The Senate, for its part, approved a bipartisan resolution to restore FCC net neutrality rules on May 15, 2018.

 

Reuters reported that Republication Representatives Mike Coffman of Colorado said he would become the first Republican in the House to support an effort to force a vote on the issue on July 17, 2018. To date, 176 Democrats in the 435-member House have signed a petition to necessitate a vote. 

 

It is imperative to ask the question, “Who or what controls my free speech?” as this issue continues to take up some, if not its share, of the headlines in these tumultuous times.

 

For the Record

The FCC’s Definition of Open Internet:

Sometimes referred to as "net neutrality," "Internet freedom" or the "open Internet," these rules protect your ability to go where you want when you want online. Broadband service providers cannot block or deliberately slow speeds for internet services or apps, favor some internet traffic in exchange for consideration, or engage in other practices that harm internet openness.

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