What can New Media mean for the First Amendment?

Communication Professor weighs in on internet regulation of speech

Date

08/29/17
Technology companies have become key players in debates about free speech

Professor Robert McChesney has published numerous books on the relationship between media and politics, and how those relationships influence public discourse in democratic societies. His recent work has examined how media technology changes the political and economic landscape. 

In response to the violence in Charlottesville, VA, a Neo-Nazi website was blocked from numerous major search engines, tech companies, and online advertising buys. In their coverage of the blocking, NPR asked Dr. McChesney to comment on what such action says about the current media climate. 

McChesney remarked that online platforms like Google and Facebook do have an alarming amount of influence over the free speech of the 21st century, even though they are private companies. This can make the lines between corporate policy and censorship very thin.

"What's to stop them from turning around and saying, 'Well, we don't like these people who are advocating gay rights. We don't like these people who are advocating workers' rights'?" he says.

The article highlights the similarities between Dr. McChesney's response and that of far-right activist Richard Spencer. "I think Richard Spencer and I wouldn't agree on hardly anything," he says. "But on the issues of whether these companies should be able to control what I can and can't hear, I think in principle we have to be together on that. All Americans should, across the political spectrum."

Dr. McChesney's courses help students navigate and contend with issues of public and private control over information, and gives them historical context for the relationships between the government and media industry. You can check out his teaching and research here, and read the full NPR article here