Intent Provokes Action

Home > Blog > Intent Provokes Action
Intent Provokes Action

Sep 19, 2017

Claire Fagin, Pepperdine student

When it comes to monitoring social media, there are two aspects that I believe should be taken into account: the audience's awareness of the intent of the author as an influencer, and the author's intent from post to post. It kind of sounds like the same thing, but hear me out. In Schneck vs. Us, the defendant was a general secretary of the Socialist party, a group which was outwardly opposed to the United States' involvement in WW1. Schneck, our "author" in this scenario, had the intent of keeping the US out of a war. His intent in this scenario's "post," aka, his fliers, was to keep draftees from joining the forces so that the US would stay out of a war. According to Schneck v. US, the rationale for deciding that Schneck did indeed violate the 1st Amendment was that his intent alone, whether or not it was fulfilled, violated the Espionage Act of 1917. In 1919, this was a big deal…and had this gone down on social media? It would be a cause for clear and present danger if you ask me.

There's a huge difference between CNN and BuzzFeed News, but they're both featured on Snapchat's discover page.

A rational human knows that BuzzFeed's intent is typically on the more satirical side when it comes to delivering news, while CNN's intent is to deliver news in a more realistic and serious light.

The intent of the author(s) as a whole in each of these scenarios is totally different, and I believe that should be made perfectly clear in order for each of them to post what it is they desire to post, good or bad. Maybe that looks like a description of intent in their Instagram bio, maybe it looks like a disclaimer at the end of every post…I'm not sure, but I believe it should be stated nonetheless. This gets trickier for smaller scale "authors," so to speak, like you or me whose intent is not a widespread fact. For this, I have no cure, except for if you are on social media and do not understand to take what the general masses say with a grain of salt, maybe you should log off.

Lastly, I believe that "post to post" intent is important, more specifically, does what's being posted provoke action? In Schneck's case, yes… he was encouraging people to protest the government, which if followed, would be dangerous. On a smaller scale, if someone comments on an Instagram photo, "you're fat and ugly," this would be horrible and if reported would be reprimanded (most likely), but would not be provoking action, therefore not presenting a danger. If someone commented "you're fat and ugly go kill yourself," on the other hand, danger would be provoked and it would, therefore, be unlawful. I think it's important to ask, "what is intended in this post, and can it end up putting one or more people in danger?" If so, action should be taken to protect the people.

Claire Fagin, a student in Jon Pfeiffer's Fall 2017 Media Law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the above essay in response to the prompt:In Schenck v US, the Supreme Court held that the freedom of speech could be restricted if the words spoken or printed represented to society a "clear and present danger." We live in a society in which our thoughts can be read instantly and out of context i.e. tweets, ig posts, FB posts, etc. These posts, even if said jokingly, have potential to seriously scare people. At what point should social media interaction (if at all) be monitored, or have we grown so used to #FakeNews that no such filter is needed?

Sign Up for Pfeiffer Law's Monthly Newsletter

Contact Jon and his team today.