A panel of free speech experts gathered Tuesday at Kansas University to discuss social media's changing and unclear position in the United States' body of laws.
Dozens of guests attended the two-hour discussion held at Spooner Hall. Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center; Amy Gajda, associate professor or law at Tulane University Law School; and Stephen McAllister, a distinguished professor of law at KU made up the panel, which was moderated by Deanell Reece Tacha, the dean of the School of Law at Pepperdine University.
The event was sponsored by The Commons, the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications and the Office of the Provost.
One recurring topic throughout the evening was the necessity to increase media literacy among the populace, specifically students.
Gajda explained social media posts are an act of publishing and therefore social media users are held to the same standards of defamation as professional news outlets. She said courts have already held a websites' commenters, even ones believed to be posting anonymously, liable for defamation.
LoMonte said it is becoming increasingly important for students to learn best media practices at younger ages. But he also argued that civil suits against social media, coupled with the desire of institutions to prevent employees from disseminating controversial messages, has created a culture that is too punitive.
He said institutions too quickly act to suspend, expel or fire a student or employee for critical messages.
"We have to have the right to make mistakes, to screw up, to say things that aren't temperate, maybe even unprofessional, without the punitive authority of the government coming down on us," LoMonte said. "We should be educating and not punishing first."