Saturday, September 11, 2010

9/11/2001, the 1st Amendment, and Social Media

Today marks the 9th anniversary of September 11, 2001. On September 11, 2001, at least 19 terrorists attacked the United States without any provocation. Nine years ago, I was living several blocks away from the World Trade Center and I witnessed first hand the tragedy and aftermath of this cowardly attack against our country. Due to the destruction that was caused, I became displaced from my home.

To my generation, Sept. 11th means what December 7th meant to my grandfather's generation. As President Roosevelt stated during a joint session of Congress on December 8, 1941, December 7, 1941 is a date that will live in infamy. President Bush's first official address post the September 11, 2001 attacks summed up our country's initial reaction to this act of cowardice.

In the United States, the 1st Amendment protects against most free speech. An open forum to discuss ideas is the cornerstone of a democratic society. Voltaire is credited by some with saying, "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it." This mentality was one of the inspirations of our Constitution and Bill of Rights.

In the Social Media Age, people have to be very careful about what they say and do because every action or reaction has the potential to become a news story that may change international perception in a New York minute. For example, the controversy surrounding the proposal to build a mosque in the former Burlington Coat Factory building near the site of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan has caused a firestorm not only in New York City but around the globe.

This story appeared to be only a local Lower Manhattan issue until President Obama commented on the subject. The President's comments were quickly carried via social media and traditional media around the globe and all of sudden it became an international issue where world leaders, political pundits, etc... offered their two cents. The on/off again plan to create a bonfire to burn hundreds of copies of Islam's holy book, the Koran by Florida preacher Terry Jones is another example of how the mainstream media and social media may shape international opinion.

The owners of the property in Lower Manhattan that formerly housed a Burlington Coat Factory have a legal right to build a mosque if they abide by all local zoning laws. In addition, Terry Jones has the legal right to burn the Koran assuming he does so in a manner that does not break any local Florida laws against creating bonfires. The First Amendment protects ideas and opinions, regardless of their popularity.

However, just because both of these parties have a legal right to do these things that does not mean they should do it. Legal rights and moral rights are two different things and unfortunately the media generally distorts these issues to create stories that will generate more eyeballs for their coverage and in turn more advertising dollars that strengthen their bottom line.

The media, politicians, military personnel, and businesses need to rethink their public relations strategy in the Social Media Age because in many instances social media fuels media coverage and this enables a story to become a much larger event than it ever should have become. I bet that Andy Warhol would love the Social Media Age because now everyone has the opportunity to get their "15 Minutes" of fame very easily. According to the Washington Post, Terry Jones' publicity plan started with a tweet. Now Terry Jones is a household name. This is another example of the power of social media.

As of this writing, Terry Jones has stated he will not hold a bonfire to burn hundreds of copies of the Koran. In turn, the owners of the building that formerly housed a Burlington Coat Factory in Lower Manhattan should rethink their position and look to build their mosque several blocks further away from the World Trade Center site. Even though both of these parties have a legal right to do what they have publicly stated they want to do, following through with their plans will only increase tensions on each side that may lead to unanticipated consequences that may have a domino affect. It is now time to allow each party to save face so each may proclaim they have made their point.

Copyright 2010 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.