In my Social Engineering class we have been studying Russian and other foreign cyber attacks on the USA, Germany, France, Great Britain, Ukraine, and elsewhere. One of our recent assignments was to read the following reports:
“So, what should the United States do about it? Think about the political, economic, and military weapons of war (Clausewitz) and share your thoughts about how to combat the Russian SE attacks.”
“I considered Clausewitz’s lessons of war (summarized by Pietersen) to see how they could help me create a strategy that makes sense.
Just the first step, Identify, I see as a huge challenge. I’m under the impression that most people who are angry about attempted Russian interference in recent elections are angry because their preferred candidate didn’t win, not because our Constitution and the Republic are under attack and hanging by a thread. A lot of people accept the premise that unethical and illegal acts are permissible if it helps your side. They may not be informed about the seriousness of the threat, or are informed and are rooting for the Constitution and the Republic to fall. This would be a good way for intelligence to precede operations. Do enough people even want the Republic saved to make it worth the effort to fight for it? The goal will have to be changed if there aren’t enough people on board. I’m going to write the rest of this assuming that there is enough support.
The decisive point: “Save the Constitution” would be my mission statement, at least internally. I’m not sure how to frame the campaign to get the support of enough of the public for success. It used to be considered self-evident in our culture that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were good things, but there are a lot of people who have been conditioned and trained to deny those rights to others that they think are beneath them and sometimes even to themselves – they don’t think they deserve it.
Concentrate: This includes physical resources as well as hearts and minds. I understand that the reports we read were based on a subset of all the existing information. The tech companies didn’t give everything they had to the Senate, and we don’t know if the Senate gave all of what they had to the analysts who wrote the reports. Nevertheless, the reports do contain enough information to have some idea of what might help on the technology side.
I would like consumers to have more choices of viable communications platforms so that they freely choose the ones they feel protect their rights and reflect their values the best. That probably means breaking up monopolies and holding corporations accountable for tortious business practices or unfair competition practices such as collusion or violations of the immunity clause in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. As others have pointed out in our discussion, communications companies sometimes have an incentive to allow content that harms their users but helps them financially. They’d be able to get away with this less if there were more choices.
I advocate re-instating the media based consumer protections that have been removed from our body of law such as the Fairness Doctrine, the personal attack rule and the political editorial rule, and I’d like to see them extended to online publishing and social media companies as well as broadcast and print. As I’ve stated before, I think it’s a human rights abuse to restrict information from people in order to control them. Can a “Right to Information” be added to our Constitution? I don’t know but that’s how important I think it is.
I would like to see all media companies compelled to run media literacy education content as a consumer protection measure.
I advocate media literacy training as a vital life skill in all levels of education.
Devote as least as many resources to the promotion of the Constitution and Democratic self-rule as the enemies do to undermining it.
US Consumers should have the choice to purchase physical products, software, and have access to technology platforms that are manufactured in the US and accountable to US consumers.
Resources that are vital to the security of the United States, such as medical supplies and media companies, should not be owned or controlled by foreigners.
Hold all levels of government to high standards of transparency and accountability to their constituents.
Remove: I would not want to see a repeat of excesses from the past such as McCarthy-style witch hunts or loyalty tests. I believe the most rational ideas will prevail if people are allowed to hear them and exercise their constitutional rights to assembly, free speech, freedom of the press and others. I also think internment camps for re-education or any other purpose should be off the table.
Ignore: I believe it’s important not to over-react to all the distractions that will be tried.”
I don’t consider my above suggestions as complete or comprehensive, but I think they’d be a good start. I welcome comments on this blog, pro and con, I think this is a discussion we need to have, openly and rationally, because, after all, this is war.
DiResta, Renee, Kris Shaffer, Becky Ruppel, David Sullivan, Robert Matney, Ryan Fox, Jonathan Albright, Ben Johnson. “The Tactics & Tropes of the Internet Research Agency”, New Knowledge, 2019, digitalcommons.unl.edu/senatedocs/2/. Accessed 11 April 2021.
Howard, Phillip N., Bharath Ganesh, Dimitria Liotsiou, John Kelly, Camille François. “The IRA, Social Media and Political Polarization in the United States, 2012-2018”, Computational Propaganda Research Project, University of Oxford, 2019, digitalcommons.unl.edu/senatedocs/1/. Accessed 11 April 2021.
Select Committee on Intelligence, United States Senate. “Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence United States Senate on Russian Active Measures Campaigns and Interference in the 2016 U.S. Election: Volume 2: Russia’s Use of Social Media, with Additional Views”, 2019, digitalcommons.unl.edu/senatedocs/4/. Accessed 11 April 2021.
I turned in my final paper for Media Organization Regulations last night. It was already a lot longer than it needed to be for the assignment, but I would have kept writing more if I had more time, right or wrong!
I am not an attorney or law student. Edit 12-22-20 – I found and fixed a couple of typo-type errors in the Works Cited section.
After seeing my grade, I did ok on this paper but I didn’t do great. I want it to be great. My professor left me some comments about things she thinks I should have included. It is possible that I will publish a revised version of this paper incorporating the professor’s suggestions. When/if I do that I will have to double-check how to give proper credit for that sort of thing in an academic paper in the MLA format because I’m being trained in academic writing and academic integrity as I go as well as in course material. Before starting this degree in 2019 I hadn’t written an academic paper since 1993. What you will read below is unedited from when I submitted it except for two typos in the credits section. When/if I revise it further I’ll make that clear in the proper format.
At the end I have links to sources, and after that links to other posts on this blog that are on related topics in case you think the subject is interesting and want to read more. I’ll also link to the Pinterest board I use to help collect and organize sources I might use. Enjoy!
Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann
Geri L. Dreiling, J.D.
MEDC 5350: Media Organization Regulations
20 December 2020
Can Laws Protect The Public From The Media?
Physical abuse of women in history has been mostly allowed to go on without consistent punishment until the 1990s. Hundreds of years of beliefs that abuse victims deserve it, that the perpetrators who are punished are the real victims, or that abuse victims must be lying will likely take generations to diffuse because they were validated by hundreds of years of attitudes as well as the lack of prohibitive laws. Another obstacle abuse victims have to face is a lack of enforcement even when there were applicable laws on the books (Bancroft 321).
In our culture, physical violence against domestic partners is slowly becoming less acceptable. It is not as common as it used to be for family members, neighbors, or bystanders to look the other way when they witness abuse. Some schools even teach children that they are entitled to safety from family members in their home instead of only strangers outside of it when they are teaching them how to call 911 for help (Bancroft 293).
Even though emotional and economic abuse can inflict severe harm, there are not as many legal preventive measures or remedies available for mental abuse as there are for physical violence (Bancroft 293). It is difficult to promote awareness of the seriousness of emotional abuse when physical abuse has only been taken seriously in very recent history (Bancroft 321).
Negligent infliction of emotional distress, or NIED, is a tort that can be used in a suit against someone who carelessly caused emotional harm to another person (Trager et al 184). A plaintiff hoping to win such a suit must be able to prove the following facts (Trager et al 184):
The defendant had a duty to use due care in interactions with the plaintiff.
The defendant acted negligently while failing to use due care.
The plaintiff has suffered injury.
The injury can be proven to be caused by the plaintiff’s negligent actions.
Attempts have been made to bring NIED lawsuits against the media as well as individual abusers, but they usually are not successful (Trager et al 185). It is difficult for the plaintiff to prove proximate cause, that is, a reasonable finding that the defendant’s actions were directly to blame for the plaintiff’s injury (Trager et al 184). It is theoretically much easier to prove that a media plaintiff was negligent because there are ample studies showing how media members should behave if they care about the public’s well-being, but negligence alone is not enough to win a suit (Trager et al 184-185).
If the behavior of the media defendant is so outrageous that “a civilized society” would consider it “intolerable and beyond all bounds of decency” then the potential tort might rise to the level of intentional infliction of emotional distress, or IIED (Trager et al 179). The plaintiff must still prove direct causation (Trager et al 179). In addition, if the plaintiff is a public figure, the defendant must be proven to have acted with actual malice, that is “publishing with knowledge of falsity or a reckless disregard for the truth” (Trager et al 181). Even actual malice is sometimes not actionable if the courts interpret the defendant’s actions as satire or parody, or if the subject of the offending speech is about a matter of “public concern” (Trager et al 184).
One reason the media has so much latitude is because the founders of our country considered a free press and freedom of speech to be so important that they specified those rights in the First Amendment (Baran and Davis 30). When members of the media are criticized for having harmful effects on our culture, they argue that they are not that influential, that they reflect society but don’t have the power to shape it. At the same time, the media tells advertisers they can give them a good return on their investment and if an organization is of any significant size, be it government, nonprofit, or business, they spend money and resources on maintaining a public relations department (Baran and Davis 30). A belief that media IS very influential is apparently coming from somewhere.
There has been disagreement among theorists, academics, government officials, media companies and the public about how legally free from restraint the media should be ever since there was such a thing as media (Baran and Davis 62-63). The idea of technocratic control was considered and debated in the United States but ultimately rejected, at least if it was framed as control by the government. Technocratic control is “direct regulation of the media” by technocrats, people considered to possess the correct values and skills to regulate media for the welfare of the public (Baran and Davis 62). One of the reasons government technocratic control was rejected in the United States in the 20th century was because there was no consensus on who was qualified to have that power (Baran and Davis 62-63). Regulations that applied in certain situations that passed First Amendment tests have been enacted over the years and are sometimes thrown out by the courts when re-tested. The limits are renegotiated constantly from both the direction of greater freedom and the direction of more control (Baran and Davis 63).
Part of my incentive in choosing in this paper to examine parallels between domestic abusers and media abusers is the observation that both groups have the characteristic of constantly testing limits, like predators looking for weaknesses and loopholes to see what their targets and society will let them get away with. Awareness and legislation often lag behind the latest technological developments and technocracy strategies. Another reason is that abusers and media utilize many of the same manipulative techniques. Does the media share some of the same motivations as domestic abusers? Neither group can be trusted to be forthcoming about their intentions because of course they are more effective when their tactics are opaque – one can only judge by observing patterns of behavior.
There is another parallel between domestic abuse and media behavior that could be examined from a regulatory perspective. In considering the pattern of legal intervention in abuse, physical harm was an obvious effect of abuse to be considered worthy of attention by the law. When consumer products began to be subject to regulation in the United States, the danger of physical harm to the public was also an issue addressed early on.
Consumer protection laws began to be enacted in some US states as early as the mid-1800s to protect the public from adulterated food and drugs (Pride and Ferrell 78). The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was created to assume responsibility, formerly handled by the Department of Agriculture, for testing agricultural products (“The History of FDA’s…”). The 1906 Pure Food and Drugs Act was a continuation this public safety work as the regulatory body evolved into what we know as the FDA by the 1930s (“The History of FDA’s…”). There was a further push for increased legislation designed to reduce physical harm from products, their advertising, and labeling in the 1960s and 1970s (Pride and Ferrell 78). Today there are several additional federal agencies created to help protect consumers. Some of the major ones are the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (Pride and Ferrell 80).
Ideas are also products – they can be sold using a lot of the same strategies as tangible goods. By the 1930s, the notion of regulating harmful ideas was part of the discussion and remains so to the present day (Baran and Davis 68). An influential compendium of the state of scholarship on media effects, The Effects of Mass Communications, was published by Joseph Klapper in 1960. Klapper’s opinion was that media was more of a reinforcer than a dictator of current culture because there were mitigating social institutions in peoples’ lives such as churches, families and schools (Baran and Davis 114). If media actors with self-serving and destructive intentions wanted a strategy for how to break down society to bend more people to their will, it was made readily available to them, however unintentionally, by Klapper and other theorists.
Consumer protection laws of a sort directed at media and advertising do currently exist under the auspices of agencies like the FTC and the FCC. Normally these laws don’t deal much with physical harm unless the issues are safety related. Physical injury is however sometimes considered as part of the negligent infliction of emotional distress tort in some states. It is acknowledged in some jurisdictions that physical assault can cause emotional distress, and severe emotional distress can cause harmful physical symptoms and disease (Trager et al 185). If the link between the media and emotional abuse is better studied and acknowledged, and the link between emotional distress and physical disease is likewise given due consideration, a pathway to further regulation of media to protect consumers might be blazed through studies of the physical sufferings of those harmed when media abuse goes too far.
The FCC is permitted to regulate broadcast media to an extent because the airwaves are considered the property of the people. Broadcast stations are thought to have a responsibility to the public due to the people’s ownership of the airwaves (Trager et al 402-403). It is less clear who, if anyone, “owns” the internet, but it was originally partially developed by US taxpayer-supported institutions (Press). As of 2015 the amount of foreign ownership of US communications companies was capped at 25% with the then-current FCC commissioner proposing to raise the cap on foreign investment or eliminating it entirely (Traeger et al 404). The policy that foreign companies would be allowed to own anything that US citizens own or paid to develop is something the FCC could reconsider by following their normal procedures for a change of policy (Traeger et al 401). Any corporation, association or individual affected by FCC regulations has the legal right to a challenge in Federal appellate court (Traeger et al 402). Foreign exploitation via international internet scams is rampant all over the world but we still allow access to our citizens by criminals from foreign countries who don’t participate in international anti-fraud measures (“Report international scams…”). Economic exploitation tips the power balance in the abuser’s favor (Bancroft 156).
Tactics Employed by Domestic Abusers
Here are some of the techniques that abusers use to gain control over their victims (Bancroft 74, 145-146, 213-214, Dwyer 55-56).
Ridicule, name calling, insults, put-downs, and sarcasm
Distorting what was said
Accusing you of doing what they do, or thinking the way they think (projection)
Using a tone of absolute certainty and final authority – “defining reality”
Turning your grievances around to use against you
Criticism that is harsh, undeserved, or frequent
Provoking inappropriate guilt
Playing the victim
Threatening to harm you
Discrediting, spreading rumors
Getting other people to put pressure on you
Spreading confidential information (doxxing)
Presenting one face in public and another in private to gain credibility and trust
Using events from the past or situations that can’t be changed as a reason a person should accept poor treatment
Separating the target from sources of support
It is not easy sometimes for us to imagine that our entertainment providers would knowingly set out to abuse us, the consumers. People often feel warm emotions toward celebrities and providers of entertainment. A paper by Eduard Sioe-Hao Tan suggests why that might be the case (Tan 45). “A lay person’s understanding of what it means to entertain somebody involves being amusing or giving pleasure, activities associated with being a good host to a guest.” The entertainer may be considered responsible for voluntarily rendering a personal service to the viewer (Tan 45).
One trap that is easy for consumers to fall into is to forget that we are not really the ultimate customers for most entertainment products – the advertisers and sponsors are. We may be the audience, but we are not the customer. When considered in that light, it is a little more understandable why entertainment and media companies would be willing to actively abuse us, or at least not care if we become collateral damage.
In an article for Psychology Today, Dr. Jim Taylor proposed that what we now call “popular culture” is no longer a reflection of the genuine culture of the people, but an artificial, media-cultivated corporate culture that he names “synth culture” (Taylor “Popular Culture…”). Cultivation Analysis is the theory that the media present a view that does not necessarily reflect reality, but because people believe it does, reality changes to conform to the media (Baran and Davis 287). As early as the 1950’s, architects were creating buildings and landscapes to conform to movie and television versions of reality. The cultural landscape known as Disneyland, for example, was the product of a media corporation and was not merely appealing to existing media-cultivated tastes but actively implanting them (Hine 150-152).
If the culture we have is not based on the genuine culture of the people but is deliberately planted there by the media, I postulate that if we don’t already have it, we will end up with a government that is no longer “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” but is of the self-appointed media technocracy whose primary interest is in exploiting us (Taylor “Popular Culture…”). It’s obvious which political direction the technocracy wants us to go. If we ask why, the large media corporations have the power to remove questions from public debate through moderating content and banning users with certain views even though they claim immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (“Does Section 230’s…”).
The Rewards of Being Abusive
Above I have listed some of abuser’s techniques – now I’ll provide some of the possible incentives that motivate people to abuse other people. Abusers enjoy the following advantages and privileges in life (Bancroft 43, 152, 153-158):
Abuse victims change their behavior and work to bolster the abuser’s self-esteem to win approval or tolerance.
Abusers gain the freedom to behave as they desire without restraint while getting lots of attention.
After being catered to, they get praise for being a great person and improve their public image when they act decent.
The comforts, privileges, and financial advantages of being catered to are too attractive to give up.
The thrill of having power is a seductive feeling.
The abuser can pick and choose low-stakes situations to act altruistic so that they can cultivate a positive image without making any actual sacrifices.
Abusing others can give the abuser temporary relief of frustration at life’s annoyances.
Others can be coerced into performing unwanted tasks or giving up resources, resulting in better quality of life or gratification for the abuser.
When people are deprived of financial resources or financial autonomy, they are much easier to control.
The abuser’s goals are prioritized while others are diminished. The abuser escapes consequences while others who would dare to engage in the same behavior are held accountable.
The abuser receives peer approval from the surrounding culture.
Disunity among a group gives the abuser more power by directing attention into fighting among themselves rather than holding the abuser accountable.
Abuse Examples and Comparisons
Here are a few examples of how members of the media have used abuse techniques to advance their agenda while disregarding the harm to individuals and society.
Abuse Example 1
Abuse benefits: Abuse victims change their behavior and bolster the abuser’s self-esteem to win approval or tolerance. Others can be coerced into performing unwanted tasks or giving up resources, resulting in better quality of life or gratification for the abuser. Financial resources are often something abusers work on transferring from their targets to themselves (Bancroft 155-156).
Abuse tactic: Using a tone of absolute certainty and final authority – “defining reality”.
Media example: The highest status people in our culture tend to be doctors, lawyers, professors, executives, politicians, sports figures and entertainers (Dwyer 19). Some of these people are at least well-educated, but many have no more knowledge or ability about most issues than we do. When people are catered to as though they are of a higher status than the common person, they often feel entitled to treat us as inferior and expect us to defer to their authority (Dwyer 19).
News content producers can be an example of media using their sense of entitlement and branding skills to claim authority they have not really earned. Before the 1970s, news programs were offered as a public service and run at a loss to the station in exchange for the right to use bandwidth on the limited public airwaves. Released from that obligation, many news programs still claim the image of public service while earning large profits by featuring “sensational, sentimental or dramatic” stories that will attract mass audiences for their advertisers (Silverblatt et al 119). In return for their airwaves generating profits for media companies, the public gains at best only low-quality entertainment disguised as news, and possibly manipulation, abuse and ill health.
Some prominent social media companies have recently declared themselves to be authorities on objective truth, supposedly in the service of their users, who they see as not as qualified to judge as their own self-declared technocracy. They employ “fact checkers” to distinguish between beneficial and harmful content. A couple of the areas they recently claim special authority on are Constitutional law and medicine (Lucas, “Does Section 230’s…”). When a technocracy was originally considered for the United States in the 20th century, sufficiently wise people, such as social scientists, religious leaders, the military, the police, Congress and the FTC were considered as members (Baran and Davis 62-63). Investigative journalists have been trying to investigate today’s new technocracy. In documenting the harsh working conditions of Facebook content moderators, journalist Casey Newton found that most of Facebook’s content moderators are employees of outside contractors. At one facility in Phoenix, content moderators are paid $28,800 per year as compared to the average Facebook employee compensation of $240,000 (Newton). Facebook periodically audits the contract workers for accuracy, with accuracy defined as what Facebook decides it is. It is unclear what the educational qualifications are to be a contracted content moderator or a Facebook employed auditor (Newton).
Abuse Example 2:
Abuse benefit: The abuser receives peer approval from the surrounding culture.
Abuse tactic: Provoking inappropriate guilt.
Media example: Netflix aired a documentary showing walruses falling to their deaths from a cliff, claiming the deaths were caused by climate change. In actuality, the falling walruses were chased by polar bears, and possibly were even frightened by the film crew’s disturbing presence in the area and noisy equipment (Foster). Netflix gained the benefit of appearing to be socially responsible while directing attention away from their own possible culpability. As professor of space architecture and author Larry Bell commented in Forbes, phenomena that we used to be taught were natural, such as earthquakes, “hurricanes, droughts, floods, blizzard cold weather conditions and such” are now our fault and we are pressured to feel guilty (Bell).
Many celebrities have shared mis-identified fire photos on social media, claiming they are current and from the Amazon rain forest, when they were sometimes not current and taken somewhere else (Richardson). Perhaps they feel less guilty about their lifestyles for spreading these often unverified messages, while at the same time enjoying social approval from their peers without having to actually sacrifice anything. One of the privileges abusers regularly enjoy is to feel better while others around them feel worse (Bancroft 31).
What is the cost to mental health of this constant bombardment of what some affix the label “tragedy porn”? Therapy for eco-anxiety is a prominent field of mental health with over 120 practitioners known as far back as 2008 (Bell). Sufferers of eco-anxiety have reported shoulder pain, fibromyalgia, fatigue, overeating, bulimia, depression and alcoholism (Bell). 96% of respondents of one study on relatively affluent Americans claimed that eco-anxiety changed their ideas about having children, 6% even going so far as to regret the ones they already have (Carrington). What is it like for a child to grow up as a regret? In one case a seven-month old baby is going to have to find out what it’s like to live through a gunshot wound in the chest as the only survivor of an Argentinian family killed in a murder-suicide pact apparently precipitated by eco-anxiety (Sacks).
Children and adults alike have been taunted with threats that important cultural traditions like Thanksgiving and Christmas will be ruined or cancelled because of climate change (Watts). This could be interpreted as doubling down on the effort to induce poor mental health in viewers because religion is one of the well-known weapons against depression, anxiety, substance use disorder, suicidal behavior and poor physical health (Whitley). Thanksgiving is a secular holiday, not a religious one, but gratitude is something both atheists and theists alike can embrace. However, too much gratitude is not good for the advertising business. If people get too satisfied with what they already have, they won’t buy as many new things. The idea that products should constantly be updated in appearance to make old versions obsolete or deliberately made not to last very long became mainstream by the middle of the 20th century in the United States (Hine 66). The media likes to encourage us to buy unnecessary products while at the same time promoting guilt in us because excess consumption is bad for the environment. That behavior results in a triple win for the media/entertainment industry and their advertising clients – they sell more products, appear to be socially responsible for infiltrating our entertainment with guilt messages, and evade accountability for their own environmental misdeeds.
Abuse Example 3:
Abuse benefit: The abuser’s goals are prioritized while others are diminished. The abuser escapes consequences while others who would dare to engage in the same behavior are held accountable.
Abuse tactics: Getting other people to pressure you, discrediting, spreading rumors, ridicule, name calling, insults, put-downs and sarcasm.
Media example: Because they claim immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, social media corporations such as Facebook and Twitter maintain they are not liable for the actions of their users (“Does Section 230’s…”). At the same time, they can allow content they approve of and ban content they don’t approve of, boost content they favor and restrict content they disfavor, and promote or suppress users in an equivalent manner. In that way they can discredit, spread rumors, bully, harass or otherwise pressure whoever they choose by selectively enforcing speech, while avoiding proposed regulation of this privilege by manipulating public opinion to vote for whoever is unlikely to impose regulations that would reduce their technocratic control (“Does Section 230’s…”).
Sophisticated advertisers know what anxieties, fears and insecurities their target audiences are prone to, and they know how to trigger them at will and then offer products and ideas as solutions to the uncomfortable feelings that result (Silverblatt et al 291). Facebook ran a test in 2012 to see if they could go beyond mere curation and actually prompt the type of content users post on their platform by manipulating people’s moods (Meyer). They succeeded, and if there was ever any doubt, everyone now knows that they have the power to recruit their users into unconsciously propagating the media’s agendas and those of their advertisers. Fear and anxiety have been known to be aids to selling products for a long time (Packard 48, 58-59, 221-223). When Vance Packard published his book The Hidden Persuaders in 1957, the techniques advertisers studied to appeal to our fears and anxieties were still new to the public (Hine 28). Even though the methods are no longer new, they still work as the Facebook experiment demonstrates (Meyer). There are a number of possible health related side effects resulting from induced fear and anxiety, including fevers, vomiting, impotence, diarrhea, increased heart rate, fatigue, nausea, sleep problems, reduced ability to fight infections, heart disease, inflammation, irritable bowel syndrome, substance abuse, social dysfunction and suicidal thoughts (Dyer 33, 197-198, Leonard).
Even with the available legal remedies, there is a limited amount that can be done for a victim of physical or mental abuse unless they decide to stop accepting the abuse and take action to use what help is available to assist in freeing themselves. Many of the harmful mental and physical effects of media can be overcome if individuals make the decision to reclaim their agency and follow up with suitable action. Abused individuals and abused media viewers are groomed in a similar manner with deceptive seductive techniques that hide the true intent of the abuser. Abuse and grooming gradually break down the resistance and health of the target to make the target less able to fight and break free from bondage.
Dangerous and addictive products that are regulated as “vice” products perhaps provide a precedent for the legal system and government agencies to regulate abusive media in a similar manner. “Vice” products are related to activities that are not considered healthy or moral and whose use is controlled to some extent by age-related or other restrictions (Trager 547). Categories of “vice” products currently include alcohol, tobacco, hookahs, e-cigarettes, drugs, gambling, sexually explicit material, firearms and marijuana (Trager 547, 550). In the past some of the methods of combating the harm caused by the misuse of these products has taken the form of public service messages and warning labels. The battle lines which government agencies and commercial interests navigate as they both attempt to advance their opposing goals is constantly in flux, with states and local jurisdictions having a lot of leeway to tighten or loosen regulations on vice products (Trager et al 542-555). If the media is going to intentionally or negligently affect our health, I think a case can be made for providing media literacy information content on their channels in lieu of labeling on media products in exchange for the benefits their corporate owners enjoy at the public’s expense.
Some forms of media regulation have been allowed by Federal government agencies and the courts in the past to promote the ability of citizens to make informed choices about their health, welfare and the consumption of products and ideas. Here are a few examples of past attempts by the FCC.
From 1949-1989 the Fairness Doctrine required broadcast stations to provide programming that presented diverse views on controversial topics of public importance (Trager et al 408).
The personal attack rule required broadcasters to provide a rebuttal forum for the subjects of an-air attacks on their “integrity, honesty, or character”. Because the personal attack rule did not apply to public officials, it had limited power to limit one-sided attacks. Even that protection for private individuals was eliminated in 2000 (Trager et al 409).
Under the political editorial rule, private broadcasters were required to allow legally qualified candidates for public office rebuttal time in response to editorials aired either against the candidate or in favor of a rival. The political editorial rule also ended in 2000 (Trager et al 409). Public broadcasters are not allowed to endorse a candidate but can editorialize on public issues (Trager et al 409), some of which could affect the livelihoods of those who work for public broadcasters and in that case could be one-sided and self-serving. The taxpayers who fund a portion of public broadcasting involuntarily are afforded no opportunity to rebut (Trager et al 417).
Net neutrality was the requirement for internet service providers to treat all internet traffic equally and not set up paid priority service for preferred content (Traeger et al 423). Net neutrality was repealed in 2018 (Morton). Some states have started to create their own net neutrality legislation since it no longer exists at the Federal level (Morton).
There was a time when the four above regulations were considered acceptable under the First Amendment. The First Amendment has not yet changed – not the text of it anyway. I suggest that as a country we consider bringing some regulations back, as they are possible hedges against the technocracy gaining further power over us and increasing their ability to abuse.
Bancroft, Lundy. Why Does He Do That? Inside The Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. Berkeley Books. 2002.
Baran, Stanley J. and Dennis K. Davis. Mass Communication Theory: Foundations, Ferment, and Future. Seventh Edition. CENGAGE Learning, 2015.
The new season of the Netflix series “The Crown” is out. Around this time last year I wrote a homework assignment paper about the production elements in the show for Media and Culture class. As I start to view the new Season 4, I’m recalling our studies last week in Media Organization Regulations class on the legal aspects of privacy. How does what we learned illuminate how entertainment companies depict real people in a fictionalized drama? Here is an amalagamation of a couple of last week’s homework assignments. If you like to watch “The Crown” or other dramas based on historic events and real people, you might find some of the legal considerations involved interesting. In the series are also depictions of emotional abuse and mental illness, topics I’ve written about before and which again came up in last week’s homework. Abuse takes many forms and some of them are perfectly legal. These selections have been graded by my professor but I didn’t make any changes before publishing. Please keep in mind I am not an attorney or law student, I’m an Advertising and Marketing Communications major. Enjoy!
The Right to Privacy
The theory of a right to privacy developed in US law over about the last 130 years, derived from the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 14th amendments (Trager et al 234). The right to privacy is defined as “1) The right not to have one’s personal matters disclosed or publicized; the right to be left alone. 2) The right against undue government intrusion into fundamental personal issues and decisions” (Legal Information Institute “Right to privacy”).
A tort is a transgression by one person or entity on another’s rights, resulting in an injury (Trager et al 234). Law school dean William Prosser described four torts in the following categories; “false light, appropriation, intrusion and private facts” (Trager et al 235). Commercialization and the right to publicity are sub-categories under appropriation (Trager et al 235). The right to publicity “prevents the unauthorized commercial use of an individual’s name, likeness, or other recognizable aspects of one’s persona. It gives an individual the exclusive right to license the use of their identity for commercial promotion” (Legal Information Institute “Publicity”). Besides being a subset of the right to privacy, the right to publicity differs in that it prevents unauthorized commercial exploitation of an individual rather than addressing non-commercial violations of rights.
False light, intrusion and private facts only apply to living persons (Trager et al 235). The appropriation tort is broader. It applies to living persons and in addition the deceased, businesses, non-profits and associations (Trager et al 235). The states vary a great deal in which torts they recognize – many only recognize single categories or subsets and not necessarily the same ones (Trager et al 235).
Celebrities don’t forfeit their right to privacy by being celebrities, but since people want to know about them many of their activities could be considered newsworthy (Trager et al 246). That doesn’t mean people are entitled to know facts about a celebrity that are not determined to be in the public interest (Trager et al 260, 262). A person’s notoriety might make them the licit subject of a satirical, artistic or transformative work that stops short of commercial use (Trager et al 248-249), which would interfere with the celebrity’s right to publicity.
Appropriation, Commercialization and Political Speech
Appropriation torts are recognized by 46 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico (Trager 235). The remaining four states have yet to rule on appropriation (Trager 241). Commercialization and the right to publicity are the two torts included in the privacy law category of appropriation (Trager 235). Commercialization, also known as misappropriation, is the act of using the likeness or name of a living or dead person in advertising or for commercial purposes without seeking permission from the individual in question or that of the heirs (Trager 236, 241).
The commercialization prohibition is less likely to be applied to a deceased person than right of publicity because it is intended to prevent emotional distress to an individual by upholding the person’s dignity in preserving their personal right to privacy. As a personal right, it is not usually thought by the courts to apply after death, unlike the right to publicity which deals with the monetary value of one’s identity a form of property that can be transferred or inherited (Trager 242).
Dan Frazier is a retailer and activist who sells left-wing themed political merchandise and other products through his company Lifeweaver LLC (Lifeweaver LLC, email@example.com). In the first decade of the 2000s he started selling anti Iraq war t-shirts with the names of U.S. soldiers who had thus far died in the war as part of the design in small print. Enough families of the deceased soldiers were outraged by their family members names being used to make money for Frazier that laws were passed in several states making the sale of merchandise that appropriated soldiers names or likenesses without permission illegal (Fischer, “Mom Wants Dead…”). Frazier’s home state Arizona was one of those passing such a law (Fischer). Frazier, represented by the ACLU in a case heard in a federal court in Phoenix, was able to stop state and local officials from prosecuting him, citing First Amendment rights to freedom of speech. The federal court declined to strike the Arizona law from the books and decided to let future similar cases be decided on their own merits (Fischer). The defenses against appropriation are newsworthiness, the appropriated material being in the public domain, freedom of speech under the First Amendment, incidental use, self promotional ads for the mass media, and consent (Trager 245). How would these defenses possibly apply to Frazier’s case and any future cases that are similar?
The U.S. Supreme Court has decided an appropriation case based on newsworthiness before, in hearing whether a news station deprived stuntman Hugo Zacchini of his rights to make a profit from his human cannonball act by airing the entire act as part of a news broadcast. The court found in Zacchini’s favor, giving his right to publicity more weight than the news station’s First Amendment right to free speech (Trager 247). In Frazier’s case, newsworthiness is obliquely mentioned in the complaint (Frazier CV07-8040-PCT-NVW) but not as a factor in the decision (Frazier 07-CV-8040-PHX-NVW) though perhaps it could have been. Deaths in war are news, and courts have previously found that newsworthiness is a defense even though news content is sometimes sold (Trager 246). Dan Frazier presents his company as a retailer of products as opposed to a news organization (“Campaign Finance Report…”, firstname.lastname@example.org).
The names of those killed in war are public information, as again obliquely mentioned in the complaint (Frazier CV07-8040-PCT-NVW), and in my opinion would qualify as factual information that is in the public domain (Trager 248).
Most prominent in the complaint and the court’s findings are issues concerning free speech under the First Amendment. Cited in the decision was a U.S. Supreme Court case, Riley v. National Federation of the Blind, which ruled that if speech is a blend of commercial and some other purpose, the two purposes cannot be parsed out and must be considered together. Given this finding, Frazier’s t-shirts were determined to be protected by First Amendment rights as any other type of political speech would be (Frazier 07-CV-8040-PHX-NVW).
Ads for the Media
Mass media may use names and likenesses of public figures in advertisements for products if the identity-related elements are part of the original content (Trager 251). The court in Frazier’s case considered but declined to evaluate separately the legality of the t-shirt products themselves and catalog pictures of the t-shirts with close ups showing some of the soldier’s names. Perhaps the court did not feel it necessary to comment on whether it mattered in this context whether the names were of private or public figures since it had already found that pictures of the merchandise were “inextricably intertwined with otherwise fully protected speech” (Frazier 07-CV-8040-PHX-NVW).
Frazier made no pretense to claiming consent. His web site included a statement reading, in part, “I have no plans to remove any names or discontinue any of these products, no matter how many requests I receive” (Watters). He and his legal team believed they did not need it, and were eventually found to be correct in the legal sense (Frazier 07-CV-8040-PHX-NVW). Frazier’s personal code of ethics did not preclude him from acting in a way that caused some families of the fallen soldiers listed on the t-shirts to experience what they categorized, but were unable to prove in a Tennessee court, as negligent and intentional “infliction of emotional distress” (Read).
Frazier did not need to invoke the defense of incidental use to justify the soldier’s names on the t-shirts, but in my opinion incidental use would have applied (Trager 252). An individual soldier’s name was not the main focus of the shirt design and was in a font small enough to only be legible at close viewing (Frazier CV07-8040-PCT-NVW).
In my opinion the commercial appropriation issues invoked by the t-shirt design are not in the “zone of interest” of the Lanham Act of 1938, which is concerned with false or misleading advertising (Trager 556).
The following paper was turned in last night for my Media Organization Regulations class at Webster University. It is not graded yet. Enjoy!
Carolyn Hasenfratz Winkelmann
Geri L. Dreiling, J.D.
MEDC 5350: Media Organization Regulations
1 November 2020
Freedom of Expression in The Age Of Powerful Technology Corporations
Freedom of expression is the right to disagree, to assemble in protest of laws and to publish and disseminate opinions, ideas and beliefs (Baran and Davis, 64-65). Freedom of expression is considered central to democratic self-government and is therefore described, though not in those exact words (“Bill of Rights…”), in the Bill of Rights (Baran and Davis, 64-65). In 1927, the Supreme Court found against the plaintiff in the case Whitney v. California, a ruling that was overturned in 1969 (Belpedio). This case was heard to decide whether or not the arrest and conviction of a Communist political activist in 1919 was in violation of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (Legal Information Institute). Part of the written opinion of Justice Louis Brandeis caused some to question why he voted against the plaintiff in Whitney v. California since his defense of freedom of expression was eloquent and widely influential (Belpedio). Justice Brandeis’ words have been interpreted as a “virtual declaration of absolute free speech” (Belpedio).
A present-day issue that Justice Brandeis illuminated in his prescient comments from 1927 is the regulation of speech by corporations that are popularly known as “Big Tech” (“Does Section 230’s…”). On October 28, 2020, the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation held a hearing on current internet law and whether or not it is sufficient in the present day to ensure the free exchange of ideas in the online environment controlled by Google, Twitter and Facebook (“Does Section 230’s…”).
A study by the Pew Research Center found that as of 2018, social media had surpassed print newspapers as a source of news, accounting for 20% of the news audience (Shearer). The study also reports that 33% of adults in the U.S. consume news content from online web sites (Shearer). Since Google is the largest provider of internet search results, with a nearly 88% market share in the United States (StatCounter), having influence over potentially nearly 43% of all news content puts these three big tech companies in powerful positions. In a 2016 TED talk, referring to the platforms Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, internet freedom activist Rebecca MacKinnon stated “… we do know that journalism, activism and public debate are being silenced in the effort to stamp out extremist speech. So with these companies having so much power over the public discourse, they need to be held accountable” (MacKinnon). YouTube is owned by Google LLC (YouTube).
Concerns about the freedom of expression in search results and within social media platforms in the face of this power have been growing in recent history. On its web page “Digital Bill of Rights”, the stance of Adbusters, a nonprofit network of artists and activists declare that “It is high time that digital citizens, in the face of rampant techno-tyranny, openly mount a resistance to take back our mental space by force” (Adbusters “Digital Bill of Rights”). 73% of U.S. adults now suspect that social media companies intentionally block political content that they don’t want users to see (Vogels et al).
The Big Tech companies that the Senate investigated on October 28, 2020 are not legally required to allow their users rights as described in the First Amendment, which restrains government action only (Rosen). The law that the recent Senate hearing choose to focus on is Section 230 of Communications Decency Act (DCA) of 1996 (“Does Section 230’s…”). Section 230 does not address whether or not the platforms can legally restrict political opinions – it addresses immunity from lawsuits on other matters such as libel, because the platforms claim they do not influence content (Trager 210). It appears that it could be argued Section 230 immunity should not be applied to Facebook, Google and Twitter because they do “interact directly with content” in an attempt to cultivate attitudes to make the culture of the United States more like Europe (Rosen, Trager 210). In Europe, safety and propriety are valued more than freedom (Rosen) while the culture of the United States accepts more risks. In the words of Justice Brandeis, “Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the State was to make men free to develop their faculties; and that in its government the deliberative forces should prevail over the arbitrary. They valued liberty both as an end and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty” (Baran and Davis 65).
Users who are attracted by the promise of free speech have been turning to alternative platforms that are perceived to be less restrictive than the three tech companies that the Senate Hearing examined. Parler appeals to unhappy Twitter users by claiming to offer an environment with more freedom and corporate accountability (Parler). Articles suggesting alternatives to Google and Facebook describe platforms that users concerned about data mining and privacy issues can try out (Broida, Taylor).
The movie industry’s voluntary Hays Code, which was in effect from 1934-1965 was intended to reduce public outrage and stave off possible future government regulation of motion picture content (Hays Code). The power of the medium of television and its effect on violence in children led to the threat of possible increased government regulation and in turn self-regulation by the industry in the late 1960s and early 1970s (Baran and Davis 166-167). The Big Tech companies might choose in the future to follow the lead of the movie and television industries that proceeded them and do more self-policing in order to better align their European-inspired standards to the expectations of the American public.