Smart government
From Beyoncé to Google, 4 Things You Need to Know About the First Amendment
Hilary Halpern | December 15, 2014

223 years ago today our founding fathers sought to make the union just a little more perfect, drawing up the 10 amendments to the Constitution now known as the Bill of Rights. First on their list? Protecting free speech, religion, and the right to assemble. In honor of America’s favorite freedoms, here are four things that you can thank the First Amendment for.

Online Petitions

Change.org is the internet’s go-to site for anyone seeking to pressure politicians, CEOs, or others with a public shame campaign. Best known for helping Trayvon Martin’s parents prosecute the man who shot him, ending Bank of America’s $5 monthly checking account fees, and removing flame retardants from your favorite soft drinks, it allows everyday citizens to exercise their voice to gather support and affect change.

While we may take it for granted that we can sign a petition asking an NBA player to lose his ugly headband, it’s the petition clause of the First Amendment that makes that even possible. Leading up to the Revolution, colonists were angry that the King of England tried to stifle opposition to his rule. Consequently, the Founding Fathers created the first amendment to guarantee that individuals had the right to protest and petition their government when things weren’t going as they liked.

Twitter

You might not think twice about live tweeting your neighbor’s breakup or a plane passenger’s meltdown, but for many in the world, that isn’t a luxury so widely available. Earlier this year the Prime Minister of Turkey blocked the site after someone tweeted wiretapped recordings that damaged the government’s reputation ahead of local elections. And places like China, North Korea, Vietnam and Iran – countries not exactly known to value their citizens’ freedoms –have   never allowed access to the social network. So next time you want to tweet out that selfie, be sure to thank our founding fathers for the right to broadcast your views, no matter how inflammatory (or silly) they may be.

Beyoncé

The reigning queen of pop caused a controversy last summer when she banned photographers from taking ugly photos of her during her concerts, instead only allowing pre-approved (read: flattering) photos to be used. While celebrities fussing over their image may seem innocuous, a representative from the National Press Photographers Association cried foul, warning that “if media only reports what publicists feed them and does not cover events independently, it threatens the First Amendment’s freedom of the press.”

Your Google Search Results

If a website doesn’t show up in a Google search, is it really a website at all? This is not just an existential question. In fact, several companies have gotten upset with search giant Google when their website didn’t show up at the top of search results, instead appearing a few spots down, or even on the second page (oh the horror!). But according to Google’s legal team, the company’s search algorithm reflects “individual editorial choices” about both opinions and facts—two categories of speech that enjoy full First Amendment protection. By “select[ing] what information it presents and how it presents it,” Google said it was exercising classic free speech, not unlike a newspaper editor might. A California state court recently agreed, and Google’s right to do whatever it wants with search results has been codified into law.