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In selecting 3 landmark cases to analyze and how they affected digital communications I really wanted to examine the First Amendment and how things have changed. With the creation of the Internet, and the rise of social media; so much has changed in digital media and communications.
The following are three landmark cases that reformed the way we interpret communication law and the way that digital media is communicated.
In the first case, Masson VS. New Yorker Magazine 1991, the US Supreme Court reversed the earlier decision by a California district court judge. (Moore and Murray, 2014). In the case, Jeffrey Masson’s claims were that New Yorker reporter Janet Malcom made up quotes from Masson to print in the magazine. The claims were that he was called an “intellectual gigolo” but that was found not to be true when they played the recordings. What was important about this case? The case ruled that the term “actual malice” couldn’t be used when instructing jurors because it can cause confusion when trying to define the term.
So what the Court found was that it would be best if the jury was just told if the statement was published with knowledge of falseness. (Moore and Murray 2014). The outcome was that the Masson had been libeled.
This really helped shape a good practice that digital communicators can use today. Libel is one of the most important terms that affect people working in the communications field today. These individuals cannot print information that is derogatory about another person with the intent to harm them or their reputation. A good practice is to always think in terms of how this affects the individuals or individual you are writing about. This case also really helped us see that certain things or words cannot be used in court because it could be hard to define. Libel is like a living breathing thing, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It really affects everything digital communication professionals publish and share. This case showed that people who intend to harm others will be punished in a court of law.
The next case I’d like to examine is Street vs New York 1969. This case was very intriguing to me because it was a “thorny case about prior restraint and symbolic speech.” (Moore and Murray) What occurred was that in 1969 in a 5 to 4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision to convict a man for burning the US flag in protest. An African American World War II veteran Sidney Street, after hearing that James Meredith was killed in a sniper shooting, protested by burning an American flag on a street corner. That was all he did, but he was arrested for knowingly defiling an American flag. The local court confirmed this, but when he appealed the Supreme Court overturned his sentence because they said he did not have any hate speech attributed to these actions, he simply was burning the flag peacefully. By doing this peacefully, he was therefore protected by the First Amendment

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