While social media such as Facebook and Twitter have been blamed for contributing to teen ills from narcissism to cyberbullying, a new study by the Knight Foundation says they also raise students’ appreciation for the First Amendment and its guarantee of free speech rights.

As the use of social media has expanded, the percentage of students who believe “the First Amendment goes too far” in protecting the rights of citizens has dropped to a quarter (24 percent) in 2011 from nearly half (45 percent) in 2006, according the study. It was written by UConn professor Ken Dautrich, a senior consultant for the Pert Group in Farmington.

Increased appreciation for free speech rights clearly is linked to use of social media, Knight reports: 91 percent of students who use social networking daily to get news and information agree that “people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions.” But only 77 percent of those who never use social networks to get news agree that unpopular opinions should be allowed.

Still, teachers tend to view social media negatively, with 49 percent saying they have harmed learning as opposed to 39 percent who say they have helped.

“The dawning of a new digital age in communications has dramatically changed how we consume news and information. Students are adapting to these new tools faster than adults, using them for networking and news, and now, to better appreciate freedom,” Eric Newton of the Knight Foundation wrote in a commentary article on the report. “Maybe we can learn something from them.”

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