Question: As use of the social media grows among young people in America, do these young folks also become more passionate about the need for the First Amendment?
(You remember: the Constitution’s First Amendment guarantees that the nation will have a free press system. The media can pretty much report what it wants without fear of prior restraint.)
Answer: a study released Sept. 16 by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation concludes that the use of the social media is a pretty good thing for that First Amendment.
“Students using their multimedia devices to text, blog, tweet, or post on Facebook are simultaneously finding out more about the world – and freedom of expression,” writes Kaila Ward, editor-in-chief of The Clause, the student newspaper of California’s Azusa Pacific University.
The Knight study discovered that 9 out of 10 students who use the social media to obtain news and information on a daily basis express strong support for guarantees of the news media in general. They think folks should be allowed to express unpopular opinions, along with the popular ones.
On the other hand …
In contrast, only 77 percent of students who don’t use the social media express agreement with the idea of allowing unpopular opinions to be aired or posted.
As the study’s researcher Ken Dautrich puts it: “There is a clear, positive relationship between student usage of social media to get news and information and greater support for free expression rights.”
Chalk up another plus of the not-so-new new media.
One college sophomore put his feelings this way: “I think people are slowly beginning to realize the power (of social media). And because we’re so addicted to it, its absence is making people wake up and realize it’s quite a tool to be able to express ourselves and have an audience of that magnitude.”
The Knight study was unveiled to the public in conjunction with Constitution Day, on Sept. 17. The day commemorates the founding and signing of the Constitution of the United States on Sept. 17, 1787.
Another finding of the study: The percentage of students who think the First Amendment gives too much of a blank check to free speech has dropped from 45 percent in 2006, to 24 percent in 2011.
Media use up
Additionally, the study shows that students’ use of digital media for news and information is up the upswing. In fact, that usage has doubled over the past five years. Today, 75 percent of all students get their news from the social media several times a week.
Ward notes, “Many organizations have increasingly utilized social media as a way to gain popularity. Geenration Opportunity, a non-profit, nonpartisan organization, used the hype of Constitution day to present its latest effort, “The Constitution,” on Facebook.”
The organization’s web site built a platform for users to debate contemporary issues or offer their own expertise. The site has already surpassed half a million active users, according to a press release by Generation Opportunity.
Light from a new source
It may seem ironic, but it has taken a media platform that is less than a decade old to convince 20-somethings that a document more than 200 years old still needs protecting.