There’s a quote in the movie The American President that comes to mind frequently, and did again this week in the wake of the Alex Jones mass-banning across social media platforms. The main character, President Andrew Shepard said,
America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the “land of the free”.
Alex Jones is the man whose words should make your blood boil. He has put families in Sandy Hook through hell, accusing the parents who buried their babies murdered in cold blood of being crisis actors. He has tormented the family of Seth Rich, a young Democratic operative murdered in the streets of D.C. Jones is a bad actor who operates in bad faith. That doesn’t mean that we should have massive social networks silencing him, however.
Employing the principles of free speech are a bit shaky here: Facebook and YouTube are private companies; they do not owe anyone a platform. Unfortunately, there are no public alternatives, meaning banishment from these social networks is effectively silencing. Social networks do not owe anyone a platform, but they should be awfully careful about deplatforming anyone on the basis of yuckiness of their speech.
On Twitter, the Free Beacon’s Alex Griswold joked,
First they came for Infowars, and I didn’t say anything because I didn’t like Infowars.
Then they never came for me because I never accused grieving parents of murdered children of being crisis actors.
— Alex Griswold (@HashtagGriswold) August 6, 2018
But here’s the thing: They will come for you. They already have. Just this week, TPUSA’s Candace Owens was briefly suspended from Twitter, with Fox News reporting on the specifics of her suspension,
Owens’ Turning Point USA colleague Charlie Kirk tweeted earlier Sunday Owens was suspended after she copied tweets from New York Times editorial board member Sarah Jeong.
Owens swapped Jeong’s tweets using different races and religions. Jeong came under fire last week after old tweets surfaced of her lashing out against white people.
“Black people are only fit to live underground like groveling goblins. They have stopped breeding and will all go extinct soon. I enjoy being cruel to old black women,” Owens tweeted.
The Owens suspension is the perfect test case: Twitter has been employing suspensions unevenly. Owens, a conservative, was suspended for making the exact same racist tweets as the Times’ Jeong. Some racism is okay, but it depends on the target. Some offenders are okay, it depends on their political leanings.
All of this comes after Twitter basically admitting it shadow bans conservative accounts.
It’s not just Twitter, either. Dennis Prager’s organization PragerU has been battling YouTube for months,
Why would @YouTube restrict our video with Dennis Prager about heaven?
There are now 88 PragerU videos being restricted by YouTube.
Enough is enough.
— PragerU (@prageru) August 7, 2018
We don’t have to imagine the slippery slope argument with Alex Jones and Infowars because social networks have already banned and suspended countless conservatives for mainstream views. Which is why, no matter how awful we find Alex Jones, his mass suspension from YouTube, Spotify, Facebook and likely more should fill us with concern.