Should Bots Deliver Free Speech?

How are courts going to address free-expression rights for the artificially intelligent communicators? This sort of conversation is coming forth. And this may push the Supreme Court into doing something they have avoided: defining who is and is not a journalist. So the question comes: Should Bots Deliver Free Speech? Find out below:

What’s cooking?

For about half a century, the US legal system has been living a double life. On one hand, the Supreme Court has held that journalists do not have greater or lesser rights than other citizens. On the other, the lower courts have in general ignored the laws and let stand numerous laws or privileges providing journalists special protection.

Free reign of Journalism?

Free reign of Journalism?

These laws include the qualified First Amendment- on the basis of reporter’s privilege in some federal jurisdictions and fee waivers in FOI statutes. Most of the laws and privileges had been devised before the Web was made available to the public. The case law is inconsistent while applying these protections to online. The journo-specific measures had been useful at times, to the citizen publishers- bloggers, message-board posters, social-media commenters. These people had to face the same legal difficulties that traditional journalists have throughout the years. The list includes defamation and privacy claims, efforts for compelling disclosure of these sources. Should Bots Deliver Free Speech?

As years have gone by, state and the federal courts attempted to use a variety of approaches for defining journalism and who exactly is a journalist. There are state shield laws providing varying levels of protection to journalists from being forced to reveal the sources. And the citizen publishers have also invoked the shield laws. It varies significantly in the definition of who they protect. Should Bots Deliver Free Speech?

The burning question:

Where do bots come in? Networked technologies are challenging journalists for distinguishing their work from countless other types of news flooding the virtual spaces. These non-human entities contain the potential of muddying the waters even more. Courts will have to explore if AI communicators have the right to be a publisher and whether bots deserve journalistic protections.

Bots being better journalists?

Bots being better journalists?

Citizen publishers make for a good comparison. They fare best when the work can be understood as a public good. It is something generally informative or may even be related to a matter of public concern. Courts have taken into consideration the publishers’ practices. Was the work original? Does it include a source? Some courts have gone onto scrutinize the personal characteristics. Has the publisher ever been to any journalism school? Is he/she currently working for any news organization?

If the courts shift their focus to the publisher, then AI communicators will find it difficult for receiving journalistic protections. On the other hand, if the courts focus on what’s being published, then AI communicators stand a better chance to succeed. Of course, the content has to be seen as public good. You are reading, “Should Bots Deliver Free Speech?”.

Although giving free speech to bots may sound shocking, a court decision in their favor can benefit news organizations. Quite a few news organizations have published AI-constructed stories over the years. Many of these stories can be taken to be a public good and so, can receive journalistic legal protections. The issues get a bit complex in the context of fake news and clickbait. So, Should Bots Deliver Free Speech?

If you remember the recent elections in the US and the United Kingdom- then you will be able to remember the flooding of fake news by bots. There were many false and misleading contents published in this time which cannot be seen as public good. So, we have to question, what’s human about journalism? Can a bot programmer invoke a journalistic shield law and protect her program’s code that includes the sources used to construct the news? And if a bot files FOIA requests, then must it be exempt from the fees as it tends to scrape the data and publish it in tweets or on a blog?

Has the time come to take an action? Should Bots Deliver Free Speech? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

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