In the early days of the commercial internet, back in the mid 1990s, one of the things that technology platform companies lobbied hard for was the notion that they were like the town square — passive conduits for the actions of others, facilitating a variety of activities and thoughts, but not responsible for any of them. The idea was that the garage entrepreneurs starting message boards and chat rooms, or the nascent search engines, simply did not have the legal or economic bandwidth to monitor or be liable for the actions of users, and that to require them to do so would stymie the development of the internet itself. How times have changed. Not only can the largest internet companies such as Facebook and Google monitor nearly everything we do, they are also policing the net with increasing vigour. Witness the variety of actions taken by Facebook, Google, GoDaddy and PayPal, in the wake of racially charged violence in Charlottesville, to block or ban right-wing hate groups from the...

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