On 4 October 2021, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp suffered an outage for nearly six hours, stimulating debate over taking a break from the social networking sites.

In a statement Facebook stated:

“Our engineering teams have learned that configuration changes on the backbone routers that coordinate network traffic between our data centers caused issues that interrupted this communication. This disruption to network traffic had a cascading effect on the way our data centers communicate, bringing our services to a halt.”

The outage drew significant coverage from CNN, the Independent and the Telegraph. A second outage was experienced on the evening of October 8thsee ITV News for commentary.

On 7 October 2021, the US Justice Department’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz stated he had uncovered “widespread non-compliance” with the FBI’s domestic surveillance regime. The Report “Audit of the FBI’s Execution of Its Woods Procedures for Applications Filed with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court Relating to US Persons”  contains 10 recommendations for the FBI and NSD.

The Press Gazette reports that research into US political donors has revealed millions of dollars have been donated by “media moguls” and calls for more transparency in the donors process.

AT&T has been revealed as a funder of One America News, a rightwing news outlet, the Guardian reports.

Fox News is celebrating its 25th anniversary however critics point to the networks “dark history”. CNN examines how Fox News has changed America.

A Gallup poll has reported that American’s trust in the media to report the news fully and accurately has fallen four percentage points to 36%. 7% of U.S. adults say they have “a great deal” and 29% “a fair amount” of trust and confidence in newspapers, television and radio news reporting.

US media firm Ozy media allegedly shut down for a brief period following allegations that its co-founder had deceived potential investors the BBC reports.

The Thompson Reuters News Foundation has an insightful news piece on how post 9/11 surveillance laws have “stifled digital rights”.

The Volokh Conspiracy blog has an short piece on keyword warrants.

Reuters reports that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a group’s challenge to Boston’s rejection of its request to fly a flag bearing the image of a Christian cross over city hall in a case involving religious and free speech right.

The First Amendment Encyclopedia has piece on “Coronavirus and the First Amendment“.

On 4 October 2021 the US Supreme Court  convened for the start of its October 2021 term, in person for the first time since March 2020.  An interesting first amendment case is listed: Austin v. Reagan National Advertising – the court will decide whether a regulation banning electronic signs, unless the sign is located next to the business it advertises, is a prohibited content-based sign code.  The case will decide whether commercial speech should be treated in the same way as other forms of speech.

In the Courts

McLaughlin v. Bd. of Regents, the Court permitted a First Amendment claim against volleyball coaches to proceed.  The plaintiff claims that the coaches engaged in “pressure and retaliation … due to her political beliefs and her reactions to claims of racism,” because of the coaches’ “political or social justice beliefs, including support for critical race theory, opposition to President Trump, and a belief that white persons like plaintiff are privileged and racist.  There is a discussion on the Volokh Conspiracy blog.

Tanner v. Ziegenhorn,  No. 4:17-cv-780-DPM it was held that there was no plausible explanation for the words “pig”, “pigs”,” copper”, and “jerk” being on the State Police’s list of additional bad words that are filtered out from comments its Facebook page other than impermissible viewpoint discrimination. Though some amount of filtering is fine in these circumstances, the State Police’s current list of specific words violated the First Amendment.

U.S. v. Perez,  9 June 2021, it was decided that a hoax about deliberately spreading Covid was not constitutionally protected speech.  There is a post on the Volokh Conspiracy Blog.

Lamar Advantage GP Co. v. City of Cincinnati, (Supreme Court of Ohio).  It was held that a tax imposed solely upon a small number of billboard operators is a discriminatory tax that violates the rights to freedom of speech and a free press protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

This Round up was complied by Suneet Sharma a junior legal professional with a particular interest and experience in media, information and privacy law.