Wait. Do… do people think the definition of the “public square” is a place where people just… gather in public? Because actually that explains a hell of a lot…

(Also, spoiler alert, the notion of the “public square” is of land held, collectively, both for and, more critically, by the public. By definition, if something is privately owned, then it’s not a “public square”.)

… Okay so now I’m thinking about what an actual “public square” social media website would look like.

I mean, the obvious answer is “managed by a government on behalf of its citizens”, i.e. how “public land” works, but the international nature of social media makes that… problematic.1

So, failing that… perhaps a site run under some kind of trust/co-op arrangement on behalf of its users? With some kind of governance body and associated user representation. Would that mean users had to buy-in to be members? How would membership (“citizenship”?) be conveyed? Would there be a ruling body? Some kind of bureaucracy?

Incidentally, the closest thing I can think of of a website that runs in this fashion is the AO3, which is not “social media” in the strictest sense, but does have a social element. But even the AO3 is tied to a private (non-profit) entity as defined by an existing nation state (the US).

I suppose it’s also possible that the entire notion of a “public good” on the internet is, in itself, unattainable given that the internet itself is a series of interconnected privately owned infrastructure systems. This, I suppose, is the argument for nationalising internet infrastructure… which, while it’s an idea I don’t outright oppose, comes with its own sets of issues.

Anyway, tl;dr I don’t have an actual answer to this, but it is interesting to think about. And also: Twitter, Facebook… even Mastodon instances, et al., are not “public squares”. They’re private ones.

  1. Also, I know how much y’all, not 100% unreasonably, hate/mistrust governments.