A national study of high school students suggests that their views of protected speech are evolving. The survey by the Knight Foundation is the eighth in a series of polls commissioned over the past 12 years.
While 89 percent of students support the right to express unpopular opinions, only 45 percent of students believe people have the right to speech that others consider offensive, according to the survey. But when researchers forced the students to choose which is more important, they overwhelmingly (65 percent to 12 percent) said protecting free speech is more important than protecting people from offensive speech.
That’s good news for free speech purists, but the researchers say the students’ views get complicated, and that’s where First Amendment education needs to play a role.
“Technology, along with changing perceptions of the media and who gets to deliver news are creating gray areas,” researchers wrote. “These competing views and habits can have an effect on the freedoms that the First Amendment guarantees. Understanding them will help to preserve our most fundamental rights into the future.”
— “News engagement and trust has declined: In addition to low levels of trust in news, students report lower news consumption and engagement.”
— “Student trust in citizen journalism is on the rise.”
— “Students believe social media has had a negative effect on free expression.”
— “Students believe that the internet is fueling hate speech.”
— “Students don’t view “fake news” as a threat to democracy.”
— “High school students are more likely than college students to believe hate speech should be protected by the First Amendment.”