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Young Bloggers, Online News Users Better Informed on First Amendment Rights

High school students who blog, who read online news sources and who chat online regularly are more likely to understand and support their First Amendment rights, according to a new book based on the largest survey conducted on the subject.

Kenneth Dautrich and David Yalof, authors of “Future of the First Amendment: The Digital Media, Civic Education and Free Expression Rights in the Nation’s High Schools,” presented the key findings at a launch of the book during the Unity ’08 journalism convention.

The book is based on the Future of the First Amendment surveys the authors conducted on behalf of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The initial 2004 survey, the first of its kind for high school students, found that three-fourths of U.S. teens surveyed don’t know or don’t care about the First Amendment. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, of the press, of religion, of assembly and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

With additional information from the 2006 survey, the authors explored the impact of digital media and recent advances in information technology on students’ appreciation of the First Amendment. Their results find a positive correlation between using online news sources and blogs and supporting the forms of free expression protected by the First Amendment. Among the many findings:

  • Frequent users of online news sources were 12 percent more appreciative of their First Amendment rights than those who don’t get news online.
  • Students who blog to publish their own content show even higher levels of support.
  • And 73 percent of chat-room users agree that music lyrics should be allowed, even if deemed offensive, compared with 65 percent of those who don’t use chat rooms.

The authors conclude that a deeper education in both civics and digital technology can help students learn to appreciate the First Amendment.

Dautrich, associate professor of public policy at the University of Connecticut, and Yalof, associate professor of political science at the University of Connecticut, authored the book along with colleague Mark Hugo Lopez, a research assistant professor in the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland.

The Knight Future of the First Amendment survey questioned more than 100,000 high school students about their knowledge of and opinions on the First Amendment. The 28-question survey portrayed general feelings of “ignorance, lethargy and agnosticism” in high school students when it came to the five freedoms of the First Amendment.