First Five Newsletter: June 13, 2019

First Five

Censorship and social media, expansion of the Assange indictment, arresting for profanity and more.

First Five Column

Gene Policinski takes a look at the Assange indictment, analyzing the ways in which it could impact the relationship between journalists and the government. Read the column. A plain text version is available for publishers here.


The University of Wisconsin is the latest college campus to confront a free speech controversy, after some called for the expulsion of a student who held a sign displaying a swastika and a hateful anti-Semitic message at a celebration of Israel’s independence. The university issued a statement about the student’s right to free speech.


YouTube Chief Executive Officer Susan Wojcicki is standing by the company’s decision to allow conservative commentator Steven Crowder to remain on the platform. Her comments come one week after an investigation confirmed the right-wing pundit’s treatment of Vox host Carlos Maza was not in violation of its policies, despite Crowder’s consistent use of racist and homophobic slurs.


Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the law that protects social media platforms from liability for what their users post but allows them to moderate content, has come under fire on both sides of the aisle. Republicans blame the law for letting platforms censor too much; Democrats blame it for platforms not censoring enough.


In 2010, the Citizens United Supreme Court decision brought about major changes in U.S. campaign finance law, allowing individuals and corporations to raise unlimited funds to support or oppose candidates. A thesis from the University of Maine analyzes the impact that decision had on House of Representatives races that came afterwards, concluding that “in truly competitive races, the candidates with more outside support have a greater winning percentage than the candidates with more traditional PAC (political action committee) support, in midterm elections (2014 and 2018)…In open seat races and spending ratio races however, there was no significant change in winning percentage.”


First Amendment scholar David L. Hudson Jr. observes that arresting a person for profanity often violates the First Amendment, describing a recent case where a state trooper arrested a driver for swearing at him on the highway. “…the trooper retaliated” because he “was offended by the profanity,” Hudson writes. “That doesn’t cut it in a free society that respects First Amendment principles.”

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