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Tuesday September 27th

UNC celebrates First Amendment Day

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Tweets and Facebook statuses are improbable beneficiaries of a 220-year-old piece of paper.

But one of the main focuses of this year’s celebration of First Amendment Day at the University is how the right to free speech applies to students using social media.

That idea will be reflected in the day’s events, which will include a panel discussion on the tweeting rights of UNC football players and a keynote speech on the relevance of social media to the First Amendment, among many other events.

The speaker, Mary-Rose Papandrea, is an associate professor in the Boston College School of Law and used to practice First Amendment litigation.

Papandrea — who will speak in Carroll Hall, Room 111 at 7 p.m. — will discuss how social media calls for new interpretations of what the First Amendment protects.

William Marshall, a law professor and one of the day’s organizers, said today’s social media discussions are relevant to all students at UNC, since most practice their freedom of speech daily through Facebook and Twitter activity.

“What we’re seeing right now is that we’re trying to develop the amendment so that it fits into the massive changes in technology that are taking place,” Marshall said.

He added that many students around the world don’t have the luxury to express themselves in the way that American students can.
“At a lot of universities around the world, you can’t say what you want to say,” Marshall said.

“You can’t go to some place called the Pit and talk about the issues that you want to talk about.”

Cathy Packer, the primary coordinator of the day and associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said she wanted the day to be relevant to students who often don’t recognize how the amendment affects their everyday lives.

“Every year we try to discuss the topics that are important to Carolina students at the moment,” Packer said.

She added that many of the events were spawned from students’ feedback, including a request for the football panel.

Journalism professor Andy Bechtel — who planned the panel about football players’ tweeting rights — said he hopes to explore the issues of limiting free speech of certain students in the community.

The players were banned from using Twitter accounts in October of last year after the NCAA took notice of individual tweets that suggested improper benefits.

“In a way, the whole investigation started because of social media by a few of the players,” Bechtel said.

The panel will include two local journalists, a former UNC football player and a UNC media law professor. Bechtel said the athletic department declined to send a representative.

He added that he hopes audience members will ask the panelists questions and offer their own opinions about the topic.

The day — which was organized by the UNC Center for Media Law and Policy — was planned by a team of professors, students and community members.

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