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Social Networks and Civics in the 21st Century
Friday, December 16, 2011
Ben Golant has taught law school classes in constitutional law, copyright law, and communications law, with a focus on new media, public policy, and social change. He currently is the Assistant General Counsel at the U.S. Copyright Office specializing in copyright licensing, television, and digital technologies. He is a former Senior Attorney at the FCC where he concentrated on content regulation and the First Amendment. Ben is a frequent contributor to Google+.
Since joining the
community in July of this year, I have seen hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals expressing their concerns about the role government plays in their daily lives. Whether it is freedom of speech and the Occupy Wall Street movement, censorship of the Internet, or the Fourth Amendment and the use of GPS to track citizens, people have shown a genuine and heartfelt interest in the rule of law in modern society.
However real these sentiments may be, I have witnessed a fuzzy understanding of the Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights and the role of the three branches of the Federal government. For example, I have seen many complain that their First Amendment rights have been infringed when a website or online forum has removed a photograph or posting that violates a terms of service agreement. People honestly do not know that government action has to be involved in order for the First Amendment’s protections to be invoked.
This is not surprising. According to the First Amendment Center’s 2011 “State of the First Amendment”
, only 17% of those surveyed could name the “Freedom of the Press” as a right guaranteed by the First Amendment, and only 3% could identify the right to petition the government to address grievances. An astounding 30% of Americans could not list any of the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment!
Using my background as a Law professor, I have attempted to address the apparent knowledge deficit by being an active participant on Google+. Through various
, I have tried to impart civic knowledge by providing links to law review articles (that are written in plain English, of course), and posting websites that show trends in law and society. I have gotten positive feedback regarding my efforts, which shows that people are thirsty to learn more about civics, and that social networks have become an influential factor in the daily lives of many citizens.
I realize that much more action has to be taken to further facilitate civics education and Constitutional knowledge in the 21
century. This requires a broad-based public education campaign that includes a concerted effort to teach everyone the basic precepts of the American form of government, ranging from the separation of powers, to the separation of Church and State, to Federalism, to the First Amendment, and beyond.
The big question is how to initiate a civics education campaign that will raise public awareness about personal freedoms to everyone, everywhere. This is where the power of social networks comes in; Google+, Facebook and others should be an integral part of the educational process involved in creating and spreading civic knowledge. They could help create a focal point and momentum for such a campaign. Such voluntary efforts would no doubt serve the public interest.
So, I call on everyone in the social network universe to join me in this campaign. It is a worthwhile investment in the future. As the saying goes, a little knowledge goes a long way.
Posted by Ben Golant
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