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An Emoji Hate Crime? The Future of The First Amendment

Written by:  Krysta Ryan

The Future of The First Amendment

As Kravets (2010) explains, the nation’s first two appellate opinions differed on the matter of whether students have a First Amendment right in the online world beyond the schoolyard gates and the U.S. Supreme Court has never clearly addressed the parameters of off-campus, online student speech.

As a precedent, the courts appear to be guided by the high court’s 1969 Tinker decision. The profound case of Tinker v. Des Moines in 1969, lead the Supreme Court to rule that students in the public schools do not shed at the schoolhouse gate their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression (Pember, Calvert, 2013).

Now, of course, the digital age has produced media technologies that have generated new communication platforms for all members active on the web.

The internet created a cyber society with the same complex issues regarding Constitutional Laws and First Amendment Rights, only new media-specifically social media and sharing sites have given citizens everywhere the ability to express all forms of speech with computerized digital expressions.

Consider Emoji’s as a Form of Speech

Computerized Digital Expression or CDE is best explained as the phraseology to generalize online digital communications in which emoticons or emoji’s, abbreviations, acronyms, Meme’s and all other symbols are used in the place of speech or written words or word phrases.

This trend may pose many complicated issues for the current state of the First Amendment within the cybersphere.

Could the use of  Computerized Digital Expressions, as an example a threatening emoticon with a noose or nazi symbol constitute hate speech even though no words were used to convey the intended message? Consider the below idea of different face tones modifiers indicating a wide variety of races.


Will the war on cyber-bullying be pushed to consider social media censorship?

As each new mass medium that has emerged —radio, motion pictures, over-the-air television, cable television and so forth—the courts have had to define the scope of First Amendment protection appropriate to that medium (Pember, Calvert, 2013).

The 2016 Political Landscape- The Era of CDE

In the NY Times article Under President Trump. Will the Press Still Be Free?, written by Carol Giacomo indicates that there is a  growing threat towards journalists and the press during the recent 2016 race for the United States Presidency.

Indeed, the President-elect has repeatedly attacked the media and created a hostile environment for the journalistic communities.  Historically, political candidates have given speeches, published advertising, distributed leaflets, and as Pember and Calvert (2013) explain, all of those activities clearly fall within the ambit of constitutional protection under the First Amendment.

As Giacomo (2016) continues, Christina Amanpour, CNN’s Chief International Correspondent said;

“So many voters have turned their back on fundamental American values ignoring “vulgarity of language the sexually explicit predatory behavior, deep misogyny, the bigoted and insulting viewpoints of Mr.Trump.”

The First Amendment is clearly implicated in any election campaign suggests Pember and Calvert ( 2013) and because of that, the 2016 presidential election was unlike any other, in that the countries nominee unitized all mass media tools, technologies, and facets to exercise his own First Amendment Rights and turned media upside down with his questionable forms of expression.

img_0030The comments perhaps in any other context could be considered unconstitutional and the political campaigning environment is forever changed, along with press relations with the white house for the next four years.

Amanpour goes on to critically call to action the journalistic community to

“stand together because divided we will fall.”


Therefore, a free press must be protected as a fundamental American right. Giacomo (2016) warns what happens here in America nevertheless has profound effects on all parts of the world.


About K. Ryan

My name is Krysta Ryan and I am a student at Ashford University seeking a bachelor's degree in Journalism and a bachelor's degree Mass Communication. I am from Cincinnati Ohio in which my professional experiences include Executive Management within the nonprofit sector and worked as a Social Media Manager which allowed me to gain a working knowledge of writing for newer digital platforms.


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Author Qualifications

  • Bachelor’s in Journalism
  • Bachelor’s Mass Communication
  • Minor in Writing
  • Specialization
    • Environmental Science
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