Charlottesville Haters: Test Case for the Internet as Public Square

by Thomas L. Knapp…….

In a recent column, I celebrated the phenomenon of “Social Preferencing” and the boost Charlottesville gave to an online, crowdsourced, social media version of it, “@YesYoureRacist,” which makes it easy for everyone to “ostracize a Nazi.”

That column received quite a bit of pushback from readers with a darker view of the situation, pointing to the likelihood of shattered innocent lives (due to mistaken identity or intentional fraud) and predicting an era in which unpopular views are suppressed by the digital equivalent of lynch mobs.

Those readers are right: Both scenarios are indeed playing out even as I write this.

University of Arkansas professor Kyle Quinn received death threats and demands that he be fired after he was mistakenly identified as one of the “white nationalist” marchers in Charlottesville. He’s still dealing with the fallout. Presumably others are in the same boat. But mistaken identities and false accusations are not unique to social media. They’re just magnified by it. And the tools which create that magnification can also be used to correct the errors and falsehoods. This is just a matter of scale, not a new or insoluble problem.

On the other hand “guilty” individuals like Christopher Cantwell and organizations like the Daily Stormer web site are losing access to their soapboxes (and their livelihoods) as they’re dropped by web hosts (GoDaddy), payment processors (PayPal), social media outlets (Facebook and Twitter), intermediary utilities (Cloudflare) and even, in Cantwell’s case, dating sites (OKCupid).

As vociferously as I disagree with people like Cantwell and organizations like the Daily Stormer, I agree that this is a problem.

It’s not a problem with the Wakfer model of Social Preferencing, which explicitly calls for “accessible personal disclosure” of the kind being prevented by these exclusions from, effectively, the public square. But it’s a problem nonetheless.

While the actions of these large firms are not, strictly speaking, censorship (the parties involved are not owed platforms by any particular providers and are free to seek the services they need elsewhere), it’s a simple fact that they hold market positions which can at least temporarily create the same effect. They are using those positions to create that effect.

John Gilmore famously noted that “The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” Libertarians like me view the market in much the same way. This situation is a practical, nuts and bolts test of those views. There’s a great deal riding on the outcome.

If GoDaddy, Facebook, Twitter, PayPal et al. are in effect creating damage to the public square — and I say they are — can the Net and the market effectively route around that damage?

Usable publishing platforms (Diaspora, Steemit,,, and so on) and processors (Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies) are already in place and there’s nothing to stop others from launching.

Will the big players pay a preferencing price (to the benefit of those other platforms) for their attempts to decide for us what and whom we may view and hear? Here’s hoping they do.


Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.

One thought on “Charlottesville Haters: Test Case for the Internet as Public Square

  1. I still don’t understand the widespread pushback against President Trump about his Charlottesville response, and those on both sides should read Walter E. Williams’ column, ‘Dissecting the Charlottesville donnybrook,’ that appeared today in the Key West Citizen and probably also on the internet.

    Now more to the topic of internet control. If you use Yahoo, without question they are not only attempting to control the views of the entire country, but they are considerably successful in doing so. Their articles are probably over 90% against President Trump, and their headlines are so skewed that for those with a short attention span who just skim through headlines, they often twist the true meaning like a pretzel.

    Foes of America, political parties and groups sometimes use our freedoms to their advantage by something called “free speech,” but it’s up to individuals and corporations to tell the truth or at least give both sides of the story whether you or they agree or not. I’m not afraid of hearing both sides of an argument, but what makes groups like Antifa so dangerous, for instance, is that they shout down and stifle opinions that they oppose. Doing this is bad enough, but what is also bad is that they and others very often do not “really know” what the other side is saying. To combat opposing views to try and change thoughts, first, you have to know what others are saying, and if the internet skews the truth…you have a problem. If the internet is controlled by radicals with an agenda who can shut out the opposition, then we do not live in a free country. It then becomes an ugly swamp.

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