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This Critical Debate is part of a Debate Comparison:

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Duration
30-60 minutes
Topic(s)
  • Constitution
  • Current Events
Grade(s)
  • 7-12
  • College/University

THE CASE

You work for a nonprofit organization that advocates for greater racial equality in the United States. Recently, there have been a number of shootings in which police officers have killed unarmed black men. Your organization is looking for a way to publicize this issue and help create a movement for change to ensure that all Americans can live in safety and without fear.

You become aware of a protest started by a biracial quarterback with the National Football League. In order to bring attention to the issue of police shootings, this athlete has started to kneel rather than stand when the national anthem plays before a game. Some teammates and players on other teams have periodically chosen to join him in this gesture. In interviews, the player has confirmed that he is hoping to use his high-profile position to call attention to racial injustice in America.

The athlete’s protest has been met with both support and anger. Supporters see the kneeling as a peaceful and respectful way to remind the public that racism continues to impact many Americans, sometimes with fatal consequences. Critics say that kneeling during the anthem shows disrespect toward our nation and service members who have made many sacrifices sometimes even giving their lives to keep our nation safe and prosperous.

You believe this protest could be an opportunity to encourage a bigger conversation about inequality in America. You are deciding whether to begin a campaign on social media about the protests to drum up support for your organization and the changes it seeks to make. You could post photos and messages tracking the latest protests, public responses and the athlete’s comments on his actions, and possibly tap into some athletes’ large social media followings.

Taking the conversation online might give the protest more reach and start a conversation protected by the First Amendment. (As a private company, the NFL has the power to stop players’ protests at any time.) But posting about the protests could also elicit some angry reactions and draw out trolls who may use their First Amendment freedom of speech to attack your cause.

Should you try to expand the impact of this protest using social media?

  1. Yes. Speech on social media is an essential part of the way we communicate today.

    This protest presents an opportunity to build support for your goals. Social media allows you to reach and engage with a larger audience.

  2. No. Speech on social media usually just leads to name-calling and no real action.

    This protest has already had an impact. Although conversations online enjoy First Amendment protection, they would also probably be shallow and could turn ugly.

  • How might posting about these protests on social affect their impact, both for better and for worse? Who could you reach? How might they respond?
  • Which is more effective and why: an in-person act of protest or an online act of protest?
  • What are the pros and cons of sharing controversial perspectives on social media?
  • When the First Amendment protects voices on both sides of a debate, how should one side respond to criticism or attacks from the other side?
  • Can constructive conversations about important topics take place on social media? If so, explain what must happen to lead to a constructive outcome. If not, explain why.
  • Do you think celebrities such as professional athletes influence how citizens perceive important issues? How does their influence compare to politicians? The news media? Average citizens?
  • Should people in high-profile positions like athletes weigh in on social or political issues? Why or why not?
  • What rules or guidelines should you follow to exercise your free speech online in a responsible way? What are the benefits of being respectful and responsible in your online speech?

 

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