Dear Members and Advocates,

Before modern technology existed we had the public square. It was an open area, generally in the heart of a city, where people would gather to exchange information. If you couldn’t make it to the public square you would miss out on all the community discourse. Cutting you off from the public square was cutting you off from your world. Being able to access the public square was so important, in fact, that it was the very first concern addressed by the Bill of Rights. “Congress shall make no law… abridging the… right of the people peaceably to assemble.”

Today, technology has largely replaced traditional public squares. Social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter have become the new “public square”. Instead of meeting in a large piazza with statutes and fountains, the public meets in virtual forums where people exchange information, ideas, thoughts and opinions. Everything from government announcements to social interaction takes place online. Our president shares middle-of-the-night messages with citizens and our friends share milestones with each other, all through social media.

The problem is that our public squares have been privatized – they migrated to digital meeting places controlled by private businesses. Social discussions have moved to Facebook. “Face to face” interaction has moved to Instagram. Community notices have moved to Nextdoor. In the case of persons required to register as sex offenders (who are banned from these platforms), private businesses are able to act as gatekeepers, preventing a segment of the population from accessing the public square and abridging the right of the people to peaceably assemble and access information.

Occasionally someone would make the suggestion that we sue Facebook. Obvious, right? I envisioned the thermometer on our website to illustrate how close we were to reaching our million dollar goal to bring that lawsuit and realized how unrealistic a prospect that idea would be. Not that I don’t think we would have a case, we would have a great case. I just think that even the most competent lawyer wouldn’t have the resources to square up against the army of litigators Facebook has working for them, so it would be like a 100 against 1 game of dodge ball if we couldn’t show up evenly matched.

Last night, another FAC Board Member shared an article with me that provoked thought and offered some hope. Epic, maker of the popular video game Fortnight, sued Apple and Google for kicking it out of their app stores. The back-story is that Fortnite created it’s own in-app payment system that competed with Apple’s App Store and Google Play. In retaliation, the two marketplaces for mobile device applications which control all app sales, decided to remove the game, suffocating Fortnite’s distribution channel. Epic sued, alleging Antitrust violations – that Apple and Google are engaging in anticompetitive behavior by removing it from their app stores. In non-techy, non-legal terms, the two private companies kicked Fortnite out of the public square.

I always thought that the only way to cause someone to re-think the registry would be for it to happen to them or someone they love. It would be so interesting to see what Senator Book’s position would be if another lawmaker sponsored a bill to create a retroactively applied DUI registry with really harsh lifetime restrictions. ‘Even if it saves one innocent child from getting killed by a drunk driver’, right?

While not a perfect comparison, what’s going on with Epic/Apple is that it’s “happening to them” and what the lawsuit does is ask the courts to consider some important questions. Have these behemoth companies become tantamount to public utilities or public forums and if so, can they pick and choose who they want to let in? Essentially, can Apple and Google be the “gatekeepers” to the public square?

That last question is very important to us. The Supreme Court of the United States, in Packingham v. North Carolina, already found that “states can’t broadly limit access to social media because cyberspace “is one of the most important places to exchange views.”” It “allow[s] a person with an Internet connection to become a town crier with a voice that resonates farther than it could from any soapbox.” So the first part of Epic’s inquiry has already been established. Social Media is the modern day public square. But Packingham only found that the state cannot broadly limit access, not that private companies cannot limit access.

Even though I’m sure it’s the last thing Epic has in mind, it’s really great when a deep-pocket company comes along to pave a road for others. If they are able to establish that private companies who create monopolistic public forums cannot then serve as gatekeepers who can let some in but not others, they will be setting up a ball for us to spike over the net. After all, are human beings less important than a video game?

Sincerely,

The Florida Action Committee


Reminders:

Aug 19 Wednesday at 7:00 pm ET.  Do you want to be a County Coordinator?   For current County Coordinators and members who want to become a County Coordinator for FAC.    Dial 605-472-5596 Access 436675#.   If unable to connect, text “Call Me” to 605-472-5596.  You will receive a call-back, enter access code  436675# and be connected to the training meeting.  If you are unable to attend and want to be participate in the training, contact [email protected].

Aug 20 Thursday at 7pm ET – Clay County members call 605-472-5682 Access 662073#.  Talk with your County Coordinator about local issues and concerns.  If unable to connect, text “Call Me” to 605-472-5682 .  You will receive a call-back, enter access code  662073# and be connected to the conference.

Aug 24 – Monday at 7pm ET – Next BREVARD Strategic Planning Meeting. Dial 319-527-3487.  Status and discussion of action items to stop proposed amendment.  You do not need to live in Brevard to join this call.  If unable to connect, text “Call Me” to 319-527-3487 to receive a call-back and be connected to the conference.

Aug 25 – Tuesday at 9am-noon.  The Brevard Commissioners will meet in Viera (Melbourne) and we need speakers.  If you are NOT registered and able to attend contact [email protected] or send your written letters to her to be read at the meeting.  Registered Citizens are not allowed to attend due to the proximity to a school. You can write your concerns in a letter and we will have a volunteer read the letter at the meeting.

Aug 27 Thursday.  Polk County members will meet their County Coordinator team at IHOP to discuss local issues and concerns.  Leave message at 407-814-4203 to receive details.

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