We could see the potential for new gatekeepers and leaders to spring up, but we could also see the danger that the demise of the established order, and human nature combined with the nature of the Internet, would lend itself to silos, mobs and prejudice.
So the design of On Line Opinion was as a shopping centre of ideas where you couldn't help but bump into uncomfortable information, and where new media brands and personalities could spring-up and establish leadership.
We were particularly concerned to ensure people who had in-depth knowledge were able to talk to an audience. The editors' job was to find those people, rather than the usual journalistic suspects, and invite them to contribute.
The project was well-founded, but has been outflanked by social media, which shows all the undesirable characteristics we were keen to avoid. Which brings me back to Folau.
While On Line Opinion may have contributed to some small softening of political debate, that would be impossible to detect compared to what social media has licenced.
In 2010 we were the subject of an advertising boycott, organised by gay activists, which destroyed the business model of the site. (Read the full details here.) Our sin was that we published this article by Bill Muehlenberg as part of a feature containing 25 articles on gay marriage, 75% of which were in favour of it.
But to activists 75% is not enough. It has to be 100%, so in a technique, since used by organisations like the Australian Conservation Foundation, and Sleeping Giants, our advertisers were targeted to pressure us to stop publishing anyone who disagreed with the activists. $17,000 income from advertising in the month of November 2010 went to virtually nothing in January 2011.
The same thing is being done to Rugby Australia over Folau, but instead of protecting his human rights, RA is caving in.
These are brown-shirt tactics, no different to what the Nazis did to opponents prior to WWII. It ought to be illegal, and its promoters held responsible for the damage that they are doing to businesses which are going about their lawful business.
These tactics are far more offensive and dangerous than anything Folau has said. It's ironic that while we are so sensitised to bullying in private life that it somehow justifies a politician resigning from her political party, when it happens on the web, to someone who's unfashionable, we just shrug and move on.
The tactics wouldn't be possible without the Internet which gives a false sense of strong public support for minority views, because in a lot of cases the anger is ephemeral, or not widely held at all, outside perhaps the Twitterverse.
And that's not the only downside of the net and social media.
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