2021 CFOG Essay Contest News Release

May 14, 2021
Contact: Mary Connolly
CFOG Essay Contest Chair
Email CFOG Essay Contest

East Lyme, West Haven and Greenwich win top prizes;
honorable mentions also to Hall, St. Joseph and Ridgefield

Nicole Burgon, a senior at East Lyme High School, has won the first prize of $1,000 in the 2021 Connecticut Foundation for Open Government’s Forrest Palmer High School Essay Contest.

She addressed whether the owners of social media platforms should be legally responsible for libelous postings by users. Under present law, only the user is legally responsible for a libelous post.

“We are now faced with redefining what the press is — have social media platforms become the press? To me,” she wrote, “the answer is clear: Yes. With many Americans relying on social media for the latest updates, and with politicians reaching their constituents through posts, social media is no longer just a place to post pictures from vacations. Social media is part of the new press.”

The contest is named in honor of the late Forrest Palmer, who began the contest in 2000 when he was president of CFOG’s board of directors. CFOG is a nonprofit educational organization founded on the principle that open, transparent government is in the public interest. CFOG sponsors the essay contest to encourage thought and debate among students on public and freedom of information issues.

A second prize of $500 was won by Nabiha Khan, a junior at West Haven High School. She also wrote about the responsibilities of the owners of social media platforms.

“In conclusion,” she wrote, “free speech proves vital for a healthy democracy; however, speech that may cause more harm than good damages democracy by posing a threat to people’s lives. Given the Capitol insurrection and the violence against Asian Americans, Congress should strengthen libel laws against social media platforms in order to prevent such violence. Social media owners make tremendous profits and, therefore, must take more responsibility in preventing libelous online speech.”

A third prize of $300 was won by Caroline Yu, a junior at Greenwich High School. She wrote about the right of Americans to secretly record police officers discharging their official duties in public places.

“In this digital world, footage ricocheting over the national grid is invaluable in policy change,” she wrote. “Since it cannot falsify, it is the most compelling evidence within justice systems infamous for the influence of power and prestige prevailing over the truth. Ultimately, secret recordings are constitutionally legitimate agents of communication.”

Honorable mention awards of $50 went to James Davis of Hall High School in West Hartford, Mallory Doyle of St. Joseph High in Trumbull, Aditi Gupta of Ridgefield High, and Graham Miller, Alexa Nakanishi and Rohan Subramaniam of Greenwich High.

Students were asked to write essays on one of three topics:

  1. A Pennsylvania high school cheerleader was angry when she failed to make the varsity squad and posted a profane message about school on Snapchat while off campus. Administrators suspended her from cheerleading for a year. A lawsuit she filed is now before the U.S. Supreme Court. Does the First Amendment protect public school students for speech outside school grounds? 
  1. Should the owners of social media platforms be legally responsible for libelous postings by users? Under present law, only the user is legally responsible for a libelous post.
  1. Do Americans have the right to secretly record police officers discharging their official duties in public places?

Judges for the contest were Janet Manko, Martin Margulies, Eileen FitzGerald, Lyn Hottes and Mary Connolly.