At this moment of national and international crisis, when history is being made before our eyes, TheArticle has in its own way made history too. This week we are launching the first online publishing platform that is also a social media platform.
Why does this matter? It matters because at TheArticle we believe that honesty and transparency are meaningless without responsibility. Other social media platforms deny that they are publishers, and hence bear no legal responsibility for what appears on their sites. Sooner or later, that dubious proposition will be tested in the courts.
By contrast, TheArticle was first launched last autumn as a publishing platform. Only now have we built the functionality to transform our site into a social media platform as well. We are on track to deliver the best online experience to the broadest spectrum of readers — all for free and free for all. And we are confident that we are the only platform that publishes first class writing every day, that properly rewards contributors, and that gives readers the opportunity to create secure social media communities — all on one site.
As we enter a new phase in the history of our islands, our continent and our planet, the time has come for the online world to adopt much higher ethical safeguards than has been the case hitherto. For the technology companies that own the platforms used daily by billions to evade such safeguards just won’t do any more. Too many lives have been blighted by bad experiences online. Too many groups and individuals with evil intentions have exploited the freedom that this parallel universe offers. We have sacrificed too much of our own and our children’s privacy and security, usually unaware that we are doing so.
All this is happening just as our politics appears to be incapable of resolving our differences. The implicit covenant between government, society and the individual has broken down. The time has come to repair the delicate membrane of our polity and to restore the dignity and integrity of the person. Brexit has revealed just how divided our nation has been, but it ought to mark a turning point for our democracy as well. Today’s terrible news from New Zealand is a warning against what can happen when global extremism sets local communities against one another. The murder in Christchurch of scores of Muslims in their mosques has very probably been inspired by toxic ideologies disseminated online.
On Thursday I attended a debate on “State, Church and Community” in St Mary’s Church in Putney; that church was the scene of the Putney debates among soldiers of the New Model Army about the future of England, at a time when the political system had collapsed entirely and a civil war had cost tens of thousands of lives. The Civil War was not yet over when one of the soldiers at Putney, Thomas Rainborowe, uttered the immortal words that are now engraved above the church entrance: “The poorest he that is in England hath a life to live as the greatest he.” Words that our parliamentarians in their consideration of Brexit would do well to remember.
Oliver Cromwell was present at the Putney Debates: the Interregnum created a political vacuum that was filled by a military dictator, because Parliament alone could not govern. To this day we say that the United Kingdom is governed by the Queen in Parliament.
Cromwell was not only a dictator, of course, but one of the greatest statesmen this country has ever produced. We have him to thank for the fact that we have a Jewish community, and indeed religious minorities of all kinds. But the most important legacy of the Civil War is that as a nation we have almost always been able to resolve our political disputes without resorting to violence. That covenant has endured for four centuries, through good times and bad. Meanwhile our European neighbours have been through every imaginable horror. In war and peace, the British have overcome their own divisions and have usually helped to heal those of others. Why have we been able to play this role?
One of the reasons, undoubtedly, has been the existence of a free press. John Milton, Cromwell’s Latin Secretary and friend, wrote in his great 1644 tract Areopagitica: “Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties.” While the Civil War still raged, Milton articulated the principles on which freedom of speech, of the press and now of online media depend.
That freedom is still infinitely precious and must be protected by the highest ethical standards among publishers and journalists. TheArticle is dedicated to upholding those standards and to taking our responsibilities seriously. We hope that you, the readers, will join us in this great enterprise.