Home Living Today Culture THE INTERNET IS THE NEW PUBLIC SQUARE By Stephen Crawford


4 min read

Once upon a time, Thomas Paine was an editor for a “radical new monthly newspaper,” the Pennsylvania Magazine. He held a radical point of view – for American independence from Great Britain. He laid out his moral and political arguments in a piece he called Common Sense.

He had it published in a newspaper, and used the printing press to distribute thousands of copies directly into the public square. The piece went viral. It was read and reread in the street, shared in bars and taverns, debated by everyone from the high and mighty politician to the lowly common farmer.

In the public square of his time, Thomas Paine was able to freely present his point of view, have it debated, and succeeded in persuading others that he was right.

But what Thomas Paine considered to be common sense, others considered to be hateful, seditious and dangerous. It is easy to imagine a scenario where a more controlling British-sympathizing establishment could have branded Paine a hater, had him blacklisted, arrested, and prevented him from publishing anything. It is easy to see why America’s founders considered freedom of speech to be inviolate.

These days, what used to be considered the press and what used to be considered the public square go far beyond the ink-stained hands of writers and the strained voices of men on soapboxes on the park. New modes of communication carry messages across the entire country; and not just one way – BOTH WAYS.

These days, the Internet is the new public square. The Internet is where the debate is held. It is the medium through which the messages are delivered.

If the Internet of today had been available in his time, Thomas Paine would have published at the Federalist. He would have had a Facebook account extolling revolution. He would have had Youtube videos that ran counter to the prevailing orthodoxy. Would the SPLC have branded him a hater? Would his Facebook and Youtube accounts have been deleted? Would his posts have been “deplatformed” or demonetized by Google?” Indeed.

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