Franklin Foer calls Facebook “the public square”

Mr Foer, when discussing the abuses that Facebook et al perpetrate on US civil society, refers repeatedly to the platforms as “the public square”. But the metaphor fails for me. Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, … are all private entities, and IMHO should be allowed to define their own rules, to a certain point. They’re not the corner at Hyde Park, they’re the line inside Starbucks. If Starbucks wants to allow/disallow certain kinds of behavior, within limits (physical assault, for example) they can do it. The Hyde Park corner is constrained to allow freedom of speech precisely because it is real “public space”.

This elides the other obvious, more practical question: how are these entities supposed to censor the posting of all the individuals who use their services, without (for example) introducing moderators to all spaces who are liable for errant postings? So, does everyone want all their posts submitted through a moderator before they appear?

He does note, later in the cast, the contradiction between, for example, ACLU supporters protecting speech while calling for private companies to censor their users’ posts. But, to me, the contradiction doesn’t exist, precisely because of the distinction that he fails to draw between public and private institutions.

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