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Fake News and Free Speech in the 21st Century

After we left the Internship Summit in Independence, we headed over to the City Club for a Youth Forum Program titled "Fake News and Free Speech in the 21st Century" which impressed us as being a timely topic because "fake news" is a term that we have been hearing quite a bit lately.

Accordingly, we turned to "Wikipedia" where we read that "fake news is a type of hoax or deliberate spread of misinformation, be it via the traditional news media or the social media, with the intent to mislead in order to gain financially or politically. It often employs eye-catching headlines or entirely fabricated news-stories in order to increase leadership and online sharing..." This is contrasted with News Satire which "uses exaggeration and introduces non-factual elements, but is intended to amuse or make a point."

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Bearing these definitions in mind, we sat down to enjoy a program moderated Mr. Justin Tinker, Youth Forum Vice-Chair, who is the son of Mr. Alton Tinker, the socially conscious entrepreneur who we talked to the previously day at the Black History Month gathering at Cleveland City Hall. It consisted of a panel discussion featuring Mr. Henry J. Gomez, Chief Political Reporter at Cleveland.com; Ms. Anti Gray, Regional Coordinator of the Anti-Defamation League; Professor Kevin O'Neal from the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law; and Mr. Peter Lawson Jones, Former Cuyahoga County Commissioner.

As we ate our lunch, we shared a table with our good friend Mr. Andrew Kohn who organized a panel discussion on Muslim Civil Liberties at CWRU Law School that we attended in mid-January. Also at our table were thoughtful students from Stow, Solon and Cleveland Heights High School. In fact, there were students from at least nine high schools in attendance.

In the course of the discussion, it was said that "fake news" had the potential to be quite harmful from both a political and a social perspective and a good way to protect oneself from being susceptible to it is to be questioning of stories that seem a little too far out to be true. An example of which was when it was reported that former U.S. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was involved in a human trafficking ring that operated out of a Washington, DC pizza parlor.

Admittedly, the situation is not always so blatant; for example a politician might take credit for something that he/she had little or nothing to do with. In short, one would have to be well-versed politically to spot such a falsehood. So we must ask ourselves who is the source providing the information that we are listening to or reading and who stands to benefit from us believing it. Based on our own experience in our areas of expertise, if we catch someone saying or writing something that doesn't seem right to us we should not be afraid to respectfully challenge them.

But above all, we have to get over the current trend of listening to only the news outlets that reflect our point-of-view which makes us vulnerable to believing a "fake news" story if that is what we want to hear. Thus, we must (and we have written this at other times on this blog) be prepared to step out of our comfort zone and take into consideration things that we may not want to hear but need to hear.

As far as additional protections, it was comforting to know that "Facebook", "Google" and "Yahoo" are now screening their news sources after pressure from such groups as the Anti-Defamation League which refers people to websites that can verify the truthfulness of the reporting.

As far as the free speech question, the courts have penalized those that have said things that have no basis in fact and child pornography, obscenity, dire threats, fighting words, and advocacy of immediate acts of violence are and will continue to be outstanding exceptions to complete freedom of speech and press in this country. However, "hate speech" is a more delicate matter because it is a very broad topic with gray legal areas.  But, once again, it should not be tolerated and those engaging in it must be called out and an instance was mentioned wherein local citizens volunteered their efforts to clean subway cars that had been tagged with racist terminology.

During the Q and A, we expressed our frustration with some of the things politicians have been saying about immigrants because such utterances have lead to the creation of a very negative perception regarding the foreign-born. We wondered if there was anything that we could do except get the word out that these claims are seriously misleading.

Mr. Gomez answered by praising the mainstream media for its balanced coverage of the Executive Orders in the past couple of weeks. He believed that it was "robust and very responsible." He acknowledged that he had trouble in this area too because some have said that since his last name is "Gomez" he cannot be objective when he reports on matters concerning immigration.

Ms. Gray, who is the daughter of a person who immigrated to the United States, said that she believed that the ban on refugees and those coming here from certain countries was "insulting" and that the Anti-Defamation League is taking legal action on behalf of immigrants because they are our country's "bedrock."

We couldn't have said it better!

By:

Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC.

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