Digital Apostate — Part V: The New Public Square

It should go without saying that our society, human society, requires some form of public square if it is to function minimally. We need to gather in order to even begin to understand our world and most importantly how structure our society and move forward. Huge decisions regarding humanity as a whole cannot be made in a vacuum. We cannot, as a species or at least a nation, leave the fate of immigrants or the fate of the planet to one person; hence the public square. Up until very recently in the history of our species, a public square where citizens could be together and dissemble complex systems in order to understand them was exclusively physical – and then the internet grew up. 

The physical public square is moderated in the sense that the most basic of social conventions, societal norms, and federal laws apply. If you were to start berating someone, calling them some sort of pejorative term, you would be arrested or at the very least asked to leave, and rightfully so. It’s widely known that there are social conventions that should not be broken – using a racial epithet or encouraging someone to commit suicide have always been considered utterly unacceptable. We’ve established a baseline for civility that needs to be upheld, I assume you’re still with me. So, a public square is often moderated because it fucking needs to be; people can’t follow the goddamned established rules and norms. So, if the internet is the new public square, and public squares have rules, why then is it the Wild West?

Is it because the internet is new relative to other landmark innovations? Perhaps, but over the past decade that social networks have taken such a prominent role, it has become clear that we need to moderate this hell hole. The internet is a landfill for all manner of depravity, some of it quite bad. People can’t be trusted to say what they want all the time. It’s a horrible idea. Even I, after a few drinks, can’t be trusted to say whatever I feel. The internet needs social conventions, in fact the same social conventions as in the physical world. Were the things said in YouTube comments to be said in a public park, someone would step in, possibly even law enforcement. However, the internet allows for total anonymity as a shield. One can quite effectively hide behind an internet nomme de plume and tell a young girl in her makeup tutorial video that she’s a slut and be met with no consequence other than a potential warning. 

There should not and cannot be a place where social conventions dissolve and anyone can say anything. In fact, the reason that there are any social norms in the first place is to remedy the issues raised when people can say or do whatever they want. People cannot be trusted to say whatever they want. They cannot be trusted to police themselves. So why then are such cretins given free range on the internet? We have proven time and time again that we are not mature enough to have an unmonitored public square, especially one on a global scale. Our rules and standards are there to protect us and keep the peace. That there are people who wish to disturb the peace is a given. There will always be those more than willing to say something heinous because they believe themselves to be correct and their only applicable moral compass is their own. The internet needs to be regulated the way public parks and shopping malls are, it’s as simple as that. And the only way for that to work is to strike anonymity from the equation entirely. Accountability and anonymity don’t play nice. We’ll get into this concept later on.

Published by Christopher Goodlof

Writer, Visual Artist, Musician

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