The Public Square

If you wanted to start a delivery service, you would need vehicles of some sort to make your deliveries. You would need to hire drivers and people to help figure out the logistics of delivering whatever it is you intend to deliver. The other thing you would need is permits to operate your delivery vehicles on the road. The reason for that is the roads belong to the public. The job of the state is to maintain the roads and part of that is regulating how the roads are used. That means you have to obey the rules in order to use the roads.

This may seem obvious, but it is not something that was always obvious. For most of human history, the concept of a “public good” did not exist. In a feudal economy, everything belongs to the king or lord. The common grazing lands would be used by everyone, but they belonged to the king and so did the animals. The military, which defended the king’s lands, was the king’s army, because it was explicitly for the use of the king to defend his possessions. In feudalism, there were no public goods.

Under communism, in theory at least, everything is a public good. The people own the land and the capital that is accumulated through labor. In reality this is a fiction, of course, as it is the state that owns everything. The party controls the state and those who control the party essentially own everything. This is not a lot different from feudalism, except that the guy in charge is not the leader of “his people” in the ethnic sense. Otherwise, all goods, excludable and nonexcludable are held by whoever runs the party.

It is only in participatory government where we have to think about public goods. Things like parks, highways, seaports, rivers, the military and even the air are considered public goods. How these are used and regulated is determined by the people’s representatives in government. All of us get the benefit of these things so all of us have a say in how they are regulated. It’s why a city has to issue permits for parades and protests, when the participants are unpopular. Even the ugly and annoying get to use public goods.

The concept of public goods, like the concept of participatory government, did not spring from nothing. It evolved over time as people worked through how to conserve and manage things like natural resources. The American national park system was created because it solved the problem of managing the great natural wonders of the country. The government manages fisheries, because we slowly figured out, due to over fishing, that even the coastal waterways are public goods and must managed as such.

This notion of public goods is what drives the idea of universal suffrage. The government itself is seen as a public good. The military does not just protect property holders or natives. The police don’t just patrol the streets of land owning white males. If all of us are going to get use of the government, good and ill, then all of us should have some say in how the government runs, within reasonable limits. We bar criminals from voting, for the same reason we ban the insane from voting. These are exceptions that prove the rule.

This link between democracy and public goods is important to keep in mind when thinking about the on-going efforts by Progressives to shut-off dissent from the Internet. Like trucking companies, outfits like YouTube could not exist without the information super highway, owned by all of us. It’s why these big content providers fight to prevent the ISP’s from throttling their content. If Comcast can block NetFlix from its networks, Comcast can suddenly operate like a protection racket, stripping these services of their profits.

Now, it is not unreasonable to demand companies like YouTube pay some special tax for their use of the Internet. They use this resource way out of proportion than anyone else, so a special use tax is a way to address it. Trucking companies pay special use taxes, because heavy trucks are more damaging to the road than your car. Similarly, parade organizers are often charged for police details and other security measures, because these are above and beyond normal use of the streets.

Like the parade route or the public park, there is an overriding issue and that is these public goods are intertwined with our democratic form of government. Controlling access to the park for a rally, is no different than controlling access to the public square for a political speech or access to the ballot for a political party. Even if a public park is managed by a private operator, a common thing these days, the rules governing this public good still apply. Regardless who who cuts the grass, the park is ours.

That’s what needs to apply to these large social media companies. Like it or not, the internet is now the public square. These services like Twitter and YouTube only exist because the public square exists and the concept of the public good exists. If Twitter goes away tomorrow, the internet still exists. If the internet goes away tomorrow, all of the social media platforms go with it. In this regard, they are no different from a vendor operating in a public park. They must abide by the same rules as the public.

As far as the argument that these are private companies goes, well, that is true, but again, they cannot exist without this commonly held thing called the internet. If FaceBorg had to build out its own infrastructure to deliver cat videos and virility ads to your grandmother, it would have to charge granny millions for the service. In other words, these services benefit from this public utility we call the internet, the trade-off for them, like a public broadcaster, is they have to adhere to the rules the public sets for regulating that utility.

The rules we apply to holding rallies in public parks, holding parades on public streets and issuing permits for conducting commerce on public thoroughfares need to be applied to businesses that operate on-line. If Twitter wants to charge users like a private club, then they can impose ideological rules. If they want to operate as a public square, then they must operate like one. This is the California model that is now going to be used in a lawsuit against Twitter. It needs to be the model nationally so we can have a public square back.

This post has already been linked to 2502 times!

85
Leave a Reply

avatar
17 Comment threads
68 Thread replies
1 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
31 Comment authors
Zeroh TollrantsInfidelReziacKGunscrivener Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Member

Taylor’s suit will be”the ” test” case for all of this, if he can’t win with all the arguments on his side, then what?

On another level, why doesn’t everyone run to a friendlier site like Gab? If someone like Trump went there and other influential people wouldn’t that be a major blow?

Issac
Guest
Issac

Eventually, such cases will end up in higher courts. There are too many unanswered questions to leave it at the decision of a state court, particularly California.

Moving to Gab is orthogonal to the question. It is the goal of the right to force liberal institutions who claim public square status to play by their public square rules.

Alex
Guest
Alex

Anyone hear about the badthink teacher getting doxxed by Huffington Post for her HBD views made during her anonymous podcast?
http://www.tampabay.com/news/education/k12/Florida-teacher-hosts-white-nationalist-podcast-HuffPost-reports_166035808
I had to explain to my daughter why this is awful for our society and what the outcome will be.

TomA
Guest
TomA

Social media is a primary tool of mass indoctrination and mindset manipulation. It is also insidious, highly effective, and operates below the level of acute perception for most people. It’s a bit like becoming an alcoholic slowly over a long period of years. One day you may wake up and find that you are not the person you thought you were. Danger to person used to be individual, obvious, and in your face. Now it’s far more sinister and systemic.

ronhan
Guest
ronhan

I stopped being a libertarian when I started understanding the public square argument. Libertarianism is even more absurd when you consider how online properties do business.

Dan S
Guest
Dan S

We are somewhat right now in the chaotic period of a transition period in a revolution. Much like the Industrial Revolution was very chaotic for the people caught in it during the transition period (think of the Luddites, farmers moving to the budding industrial towns, children put in orphanages, etc.), we are caught in the same chaos. The previous assumptions about free speech were implicitly made based on the economies of scale. Based on the fact that big media conglomerates controlled a large portion of the free speech and that dissenters to an existing order had to rely on independent… Read more »

Member

Most of the internet infrastructure in the U.S. is not publicly-held. It’s privately-owned fiber.

Al from da Nort
Guest
Al from da Nort

Viz; It’s a murkier case than you postulate: Much of that fiber is already owned by public utilities such as AT&T and sublet to various ISP’s or cable companies. Only the so-called ‘last mile’ is privately owned in most cable systems, for example. Plus, almost all fiber runs through public utility owned conduits under the street, along railroad (a public utility) rights of way or is attached to public utility owned poles above the street regardless of ‘ownership’, whatever that means in such circumstances. It’s not like the tech oligarchs built anything from scratch themselves. Just like Uber, et.al. their… Read more »

Member

Good insights as usual Al.

Member

Some interesting background info: https://www.fiercetelecom.com/special-report/from-at-t-to-fatbeam-top-10-and-more-biggest-providers-fiber-u-s http://www.businessinsider.com/map-long-haul-fiber-optic-cable-network-united-states-2016-3 Of course you’re right about public rights of ways and conduits. But what are the real implications of that? How much power over content is it legitimate for the state to exercise because of shared use of public rights of way? Except as it impacts public safety or criminal law, we don’t really police what people use the roadways for. Paper magazines and newspapers shipped over roads, but that was never justified as reason for content control of magazines. Shared public airways were used as excuses for content regulation, but that seems more and… Read more »

Infidel
Guest
Infidel

Facebook or twitter didn’t do any fiberoptic lines

Zeroth Tollrants
Guest
Zeroth Tollrants

“It’s why a city has to issue permits for parades and permits, when the participants are unpopular. Even the ugly and annoying get to use public goods.” Oh, yeah? Let me take you back to August 11th, 12th, and 13th of 2017, Charlotteseville, VA…I was there when a permit was issued, then revoked last minute, then restored IN FEDERAL COURT, last minute, only to have the governor declare a state of emergency and effectively revoke the permit, all before any speeches were permitted and any violence, past some elbowing, spitting, and yelling, occurred. As Jean Francois Gariepy calls it, “de… Read more »

JZs
Guest
JZs
Dutch
Guest
Dutch

Just as an aside, some fire departments used to fight fires only in buildings that had paid for fire protection and displayed the plaque attesting to the payments. Our take on things changes over time.

I think of Google and Facebook as on-line gangs with their own gang culture. They have established their digital turf and now police it for their own benefit, just as a gang does in the physical neighborhood. I am all for gang abatement, as long as those applying the abatement don’t act like a gang themselves.

bad guest
Guest
bad guest

That model is still in use in Detroit:

For a few thousand bucks, Detroit police will give a business higher 911 priority

https://boingboing.net/2018/01/30/for-a-few-thousand-bucks-detr.html

A.B. Prosper
Guest
A.B. Prosper

Last i was there, this is how fire service was handled in Arizona. You don’t pay? Your house burns and they protect people who did. This is a dyscivic way to handle fire protection Now understand I’m an authoritarian Right winger, not a Libertarian one. I have zero issue with using the government to get what I want or need so long as it isn’t counterproductive to do so. Government is a tool same as any and its not evil any more than an AR15 or a hammer is Frankly this gap between the minarchist/ muh Constitutional/corporations can do what… Read more »

Al from da Nort
Guest
Al from da Nort

Z Man; So did our guys give up the ‘market power’ argument used in most anti-trust suits in the past_? Such suits usually result in a lot of cunning obfuscation about what constitutes the market in question and what defines market power. IOW, if the market is defined as ‘internet searches’ Google is in potential trouble but if it’s defined as on-line transactions of all sorts, then likely not. Maybe they decided that their chances were better on a narrower ‘view-point’ discrimination complaint. But on that basis this suit doesn’t break up the tech oligarchs, which is what needs doing.

Member

It is a little more subtle than that. First, Stefan Molyneux made a parallel argument in that if Twitter and Facebook said honestly they would be throwing anyone to the right of McCain off their platforms, few would have gone there in the first place. They use “hate”, “harassment”, but you find threats of violence by the left still up while some discussion of guns of the bell curve gets banned. I can extend that if they said they would heavily curate content (think China), some would have gone there for their G or PG rated version. But initally it… Read more »

Al from da Nort
Guest
Al from da Nort

tz; Or they got taken over by SJW’s because when they were small upstart market disrupters they lacked the antibodies against the FI (feminist imperative).* To begin with, they failed to understand how The Cloud jobs program works. It started with political pressure from The Cloud. I remember how Silicon Valley saw itself as the epicenter of rugged, libertarian, venture capital individualism during the Reagan-Bush I era. Then in came The Clinton Machine. After erstwhile radical Eric Holder filed a couple of anti-trust suits, particularly the one against Microsoft, the tune changed radically towards social justice. The SEC leaned on… Read more »

Glen Filthie
Guest
Glen Filthie

Great argument, Z, but bad analogies. Individuals built Twatter and Fecesbook and did it on their own merit and initiative with their own funds. They were not built as public parks or utilities and therefore can’t be treated that way. And unlike the roads where you have a finite amount of space requiring regulations in order that all may use them – the internet is infinite. I don’t have the time of day for Twatter – but I love Gab! The rude and often racist jokes are worth the price of admission alone – never mind the freedom of speech!… Read more »

Dutch
Guest
Dutch

I see your point, but get back to me after Google and Facebook have throttled the net in the name of “niceness” and “fairness”.

zreader
Guest
zreader

Individuals built Twatter and Fecesbook and did it on their own merit and initiative with their own funds.

You didn’t mention Google but it’s relevant to the discussion: the PageRank algorithm was developed using an NSF grant and then patented by Stanford University to ensure monopoly use.

Glen Filthie
Guest
Glen Filthie

If your intent is to attack these entities I have no problem with it – I despise their politics and abuses as much as you. To me, that attack is also much more valid given our rules against monopolies, the abuses of same, and the conflicts of interest that go along with them.

Dutch
Guest
Dutch

Just wait until Google sells your internet usage records to your employer… The sanctity of keeping personal information private was always the norm in this country. The Stasi “spy on your neighbors” thing in East Germany was a huge ongoing breach of that sanctity, over there. Google and Facebook have now silently, and without fanfare, breached our privacy in a big way, and people can’t quite wrap their heads around the implications. In the old days, you could see visions, have personal and private bad habits, or privately let your kinkiness run wild. Your public face and professional behavior allowed… Read more »

Alzaebo
Guest
Alzaebo

Odd, a month ago, my hard left friends- not one original thought in their parroty heads- were demanding that “we ought to make lies illegal!”

Spud Boy
Guest
Spud Boy

In addition to treating these social media platforms like common carriers, what I believe would help is strengthening laws against slander. You shouldn’t be able to call someone a “racist” or a “Nazi” just because you feel like it. Frankly, I don’t understand why there are not more slander lawsuits filed, as Twitter is nothing but a giant slander-fest.

Jimmy
Guest
Jimmy

Is one of the niche issues I feel quite strongly about; regulating social media as public utility

scrivener
Guest

There is no public space called the Internet. There are private networks that use a common protocol, internet protocol, to connect their individual computers and routers, to make a local area network. Then a mess of private networks (not all) exchange data with each other at agreed points (like MAE east in NJ) forming a larger seamless network, the Internet. So if you are on your company network and it is connected to the internet every host on the internet is reachable just like the local printer or file server. Each is reachable by traveling over private leased lines and… Read more »

Member

Spot on.

scrivener
Guest

Here is a traceroute of the route to your blog: traceroute to thezman.com (164.52.146.17), 30 hops max, 60 byte packets 4 0.et-10-1-0.BR1.EWR6.ALTER.NET (140.222.237.223) 9.427 ms 9.503 ms 9.639 ms 5 ae5.zayo.mpr2.ewr1.us.zip.zayo.com (64.125.14.157) 9.578 ms 12.057 ms 12.060 ms 6 * * * 7 ae1.cs2.lga5.us.eth.zayo.com (64.125.29.210) 27.062 ms 29.466 ms 29.298 ms 8 ae4.cs2.dca2.us.eth.zayo.com (64.125.29.31) 29.139 ms 29.192 ms 29.381 ms 9 ae0.cs1.dca2.us.eth.zayo.com (64.125.29.228) 31.429 ms 29.232 ms 31.344 ms 10 ae28.mpr4.atl6.us.zip.zayo.com (64.125.31.169) 33.690 ms 29.563 ms 24.704 ms 11 128.177.108.194.IPYX-093334-ZYO.zip.zayo.com (128.177.108.194) 26.773 ms 26.743 ms 26.686 ms 12 205.214.72-14.static.data393.net (205.214.72.14) 31.359 ms 205.214.72-10.static.data393.net (205.214.72.10) 29.036 ms 26.957 ms 13 205.214.72-150.static.data393.net… Read more »

Zeroh Tollrants
Guest
Zeroh Tollrants

Weird, that dumb fuck, Tim Berners-Lee, (you know the guy who invented the world wide web), doesn’t agree with you, at all.

Reziac
Guest
Reziac

So let’s say our side wins the lawsuit and Twitter has to behave as stated. Who will pay to join the private club? not the users clamoring for elimination of badthink; they rarely put their money where their mouth is. I suppose at worst they wind up paying to be in their own little bubble, and a few of us pay to peer in the windows and watch their antics.

I fail to see a downside here.