Cigar Society of Chicago
David Halsted: Social Media & the
                              Public Sphere: - The View from 2020

Both Democrats and Republicans have argued recently that the big social media platforms have become an important part of public life, and that they are failing us. In May President Trump described social media platforms as “a 21st century equivalent of the public square” even as he criticized them for “engaging in selective censorship that is harming our national discourse.”  Last October Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, wrote that the “norms and laws that have structured the public sphere” are being “undermined at least in part because of the nature, architecture, policies and operations of platforms like Facebook.”

At the same time, both Democrats and Republicans eagerly use these platforms to reach more audiences, in more different ways, with more messages than ever before – and at a cost that allows upstart campaigns (Obama 2008, Trump 2016) a place at the table.

How did we get to a place where even deeply divided Washington politicians can agree that some of the most powerful technologies ever created, wielded by companies that are successful not just on a global but an historical scale, are warping public life and need to be reined in somehow?

David Halsted writes,

In this talk, I will survey the history of online communication and community-forming from the 1960s to the present day in an attempt to understand the genesis of the current debate. An ideology that combined counterculture and libertarian elements saw the online world as a new kind of frontier, a place where human communities could develop in a new kind of space. This ideology informed the legislation of the mid-1990s that set the stage for the growth of the big social platforms. Through the first two decades of the 21st century, political campaigns learned to leverage these platforms and their increasingly powerful toolsets, but these toolsets operate in ways that also drew criticism.  I conclude by reviewing some of the measures that have been proposed to counter or mitigate the potential harms caused by social media platforms and their current policies and practices.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020
5:30-7:00 pm CDT

Sign in 5:00-5:30 pm for informal cigar and cocktail chatter.
The event will be called to order at 5:30.
There will be a Q&A session following the lecture. Audience participation is invited.
The event will conclude at 7 pm.
An (optional) discussion and cocktail party will continue after the event.
Be sure to have your cocktails and cigars at ready hand.

Register for this event.

David Halsted is a freelance software developer and an affiliated faculty member in the Department of History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Halsted completed his doctorate in Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan and has been developing Web applications since the late 1990s. Along the way he has taught college-level history courses on topics ranging from the Reformation to the history of the Internet. More recently he has focused on writing and speaking about the history of computing, focusing on how computing intersects with other forms of cultural transmission and reception.   Recent topics include punched card technologies, cybernetics in Cold War Poland, and the origins of the architectural metaphor in computing.

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ONE OF THE OLDEST AND greatest traditions of the city clubs of Chicago is the discussion of intellectual, social, legal, artistic, historical, scientific, musical, theatrical, and philosophical issues in the company of educated, bright, and appropriately provocative individuals, all under the beneficent influence of substantial amounts of tobacco and spirits.  The Cigar Society of Chicago embraces this tradition and extends it with its Informal Smokers, University Series lectures, and Cigar Society Dinners, in which cigars, and from time to time pipes and cigarettes, appear as an important component of our version of the classical symposium.  To be included in the Cigar Society's mailing list, write to the secretary at