Social media and the First Amendment Audit


The increased use of social media has led to the rise of a new type of activism known as the First Amendment Audit in the United States. The public can use this new activism to hold the government officials accountable for their actions. Precisely, this activism entails filming various activities in public institutions. For instance, some people have taken advantage of this amendment to cover police interactions with the members of the public. Furthermore, there are those who document how law enforcement officers handle the members of the public in times of emergency. Overall, the First Amendment Audit has triggered an enormous debate in the American public citing supporters on one side and critics on the other. While critics argue that it has helped people to taunt police officers and put their lives in danger, supporters suggest that the First Amendment Audit has helped judges to decide on cases that involve law enforcement officers and the public.

What the critics argue

First, some critics argue that people are misusing the First Amendment Audit to taunt police officers. Some auditors have openly admitted in the past that they intend to rebel against the police and the government. Indeed, some videographers have on severally assaulted police officers verbally with the idea that any action against them will boost their views on YouTube. Today, there are a dozen auditors on YouTube who seek to build and boost their platforms by provoking the law enforcement officers. The auditors get tens of thousands of views while those with big channels get more than a million views. The primary reason for getting these views is to make money and get more donations from supporters. As a result, some people have become millionaires from this business. Undoubtedly, the First Amendment helps these people not to tame the rogue actions of police officers but to challenge and intimidate the law enforcement agencies.

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Death threats

Second, many auditors receive multiple death threats because of exercising their First Amendment Audit rights. Police officers have on various occasions arrested and charged auditors for various criminal offenses. For instance, police officers tend to arrest auditors who refuse to reveal their names online and accuse them of supporting terrorist activities. Much worse, some police officers and their supporters threaten the auditors with death if they continue with their activities. For instance, there was an incident early this year when an armed security guard shot and injured a YouTube auditor on the leg outside a Los Angeles synagogue. Zhoie Perez was exercising her First Amendment right when the guard noticed her camera and decided to shoot her. Perez’s case is one of the many incidences that have happened after police officers and security guards have spotted auditors filming them at their workplace. For this reason, critics argue that the First Amendment Audit puts the lives of more people in danger than accomplishing the initial objective of protecting lives.


The First Amendment Audit has helped to settle multiple cases involving law enforcement officers in the United States. For instance, a judge ordered the management of Colorado Springs City to pay a photographer $41,000 after the video of his encounter with two police officers went viral on YouTube last year. Terell Clayton complained that police in Colorado Springs harassed and detained him against the law. Clayton was filming two police cars when two officers grabbed his camera and later locked him in the back of a patrol car. He argued that he was exercising his right by filming as a part of the First Amendment Audit. For that reason, Clayton did not expect harassment by police officers. Nevertheless, a city judge ruled that the police had violated the law after watching the film. He ordered the Colorado Springs Police to not only pay a fine but also revise their General Order to include the statement that filming a public place does not constitute suspicious activity. Furthermore, he directed the city’s administration to formulate and publish a roll-call video that advocated for the First Amendment right to film police activities and ensure that all officers watched it by the end of last year.
A First Amendment Audit video also helped a judge to rule on a case involving a videographer and five police officers based in Round Rock police headquarters. Philip Turner accused the five officers of violating his constitutional rights when he was lawfully filming the police headquarters in July 2014. According to Turner, the police officers handcuffed and arrested him after he refused to reveal his identity. Turner later uploaded the video about the incident on YouTube and garnered thousands of views. After watching the video, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman disputed Turner’s claim that the officers used excessive force when they handcuffed him. However, he acknowledged that the officers had violated Turner’s First and Fourth Amendment rights. Notably, Turner had decided not to press charges against the five officers but changed his mind later after one of his friends experienced a similar incident. Overall, the First Amendment Audit right helped Turner to successfully prove his innocence before the judge in Round Rock.
Finally, some First Amendment Audit videos have helped police officers to successfully argue their case in the court of law. For instance, a viral YouTube video showed a young man, Jesus Padilla, arguing with a police officer on the side of the road last year. Padilla then suddenly shouted the words “Shut Up!” at the officer in Spanish. The video continued to show Padilla’s verbal assault on the officers for two minutes. On the contrary, the female officer appeared calm and at some point told Padilla he was free to continue filming the exterior of an unidentified government office at night for no apparent reason. Notably, this is not the first audit video that features Padilla confronting and verbally assaulting law enforcement officers. Padilla has uploaded other videos on YouTube that feature him engaging government officers at courthouses, post offices, and even at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in San Antonio.
Nevertheless, the Police Chief at Leon Valley City Hall, Joe Salvaggio, arrested Padilla on May 9, 2018, for criminal trespass after he walked into the Police Department Wing and ignored the orders to leave the building. Padilla later posted the video on YouTube which attracted his supporters who denounced the arrest. Furthermore, 11 of his supporters sued the city and police chief for illegally detaining their phones and cameras and for using stun guns on non-violent protestors. Some others posted Salvaggio’s home address online and threatened his life. Salvaggio considered the threats to be serious and hoped to use the auditor’s video to prove his case in a federal court.
The First Amendment Audit has undoubtedly helped Americans to hold government officials accountable for their actions. For instance, some videographers have taken advantage of this right and filmed interactions between police officers and the members of the public. Nevertheless, the First Amendment Audit has caused an enormous debate between supporters and critics. For instance, critics argue that people are misusing the First Amendment Audit to taunt law enforcement officers. They also argue that some auditor’s lives are in danger because of exercising their First Amendment Audit rights. On the contrary, supporters argue that it has helped judges to decide on cases involving law enforcement officers and the public.

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