In Defense of Free Speech, Not Alex Jones

 

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,

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,

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.

Published in Journalism
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There are 36 comments.

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  1. Member

    Bethany,

    I put a “like” on your Post, because I think it is worth talking about. But I don’t know that I agree with you, although I usually do. Alex Jones is truly a cretin. I understand the tenor of your piece. But would you say it ok if Facebook banned a Nazi for calling for the murder of Jews, blacks, or Catholics? Wouldn’t bother me. As you say, these sites are not governmental. I’m inclined to say they should be able to ban truly hateful speech.

    • #1
    • August 7, 2018 at 9:02 am
    • 1 like
  2. Member

    Yep!

    • #2
    • August 7, 2018 at 9:03 am
    • 1 like
  3. Thatcher

    Bethany,

    I just put this update on my post “The Strange Banning of Alex Jones“.

    UPDATE:

    I thought I’d further my defense of using the word ‘strange’ to describe the banning of Alex Jones. I made it clear yesterday that the simultaneous banning of Jones by multiple platforms showed evidence of a consortium to target him. Here is even more disturbing evidence of what isn’t targeted by this consortium.

    Facebook Bans InfoWars, but Keeps Antifa, Louis Farrakhan

    Facebook’s explanation for the InfoWars ban claims that the site posts material which “glorifies violence,” and also uses “dehumanizing language.”

    InfoWars Facebook pages taken down for using “dehumanizing language” and “glorifying violence” not “false news” https://t.co/pG0N1HeYmV pic.twitter.com/8hbnoZrD4z

    — Charlie Spiering (@charliespiering) August 6, 2018

    But the social media Masters of the Universe have made no attempt to explain why InfoWars should be banned while leftist pages with a far more explicit glorification of violence, not to mention using “dehumanizing” language towards Jews, Christians, and Americans in general, should remain and even prosper on the platform.

    Among them, a page called “Kill Trump,” and dozens of global pages for the registered domestic terrorist group Antifa, which have made unchallenged posts supporting violence.

    “It’s Going Down” is one such prominent Antifa page. Beyond featuring violent imagery of President Donald Trump being attacked, it includes training and information on attacking critical infrastructure targets. “It’s Going Down” seems to be lower on Facebook’s list of “glorying violence” than InfoWars.

    Infowars was banned from Facebook but this Antifa organizing site that offers recruiting materials that depict Trump supporters being bayoneted, and provided instructions on how to sabotage critical transportation and communication infrastructure, is still active. Weird, right? pic.twitter.com/mlCziz9ypX

    — Far Left Watch (@FarLeftWatch) August 6, 2018

    Infamous anti-Semite and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan also remains on the platform, with nearly one million likes, while The Young Turks, a progressive news outlet, remains despite its founder Cenk Uygur’s denial of the Armenian Holocaust.

    The New Black Panther Party, a black supremacist organization, which according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has “encouraged violence against whites, Jews, and law enforcement officers,” also has several pages on the social network.

    Other pages allowed on the platform include: “Fuck White America,” “Fuck the south,” and “Islam Will Rule the World.”

    A list of left-wing sites that make Alex Jones look tame in comparison and have not been taken down, should be maintained and monitored. I stand by my original title. The extreme targeting of Jones by these major platform players has a very bad feel to it. If a Congressional hearing is necessary because of it, I say so be it. The hearings won’t produce any change in the law but they will give the mega-platforms a lot of bad publicity and that will drop their stock prices. Tit for Tat.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #3
    • August 7, 2018 at 9:04 am
    • 8 likes
  4. Member

    Austin! “What starts here changes the world!” Though not necessarily for the better. Also the latest 3D guns were uploaded from a company here. Love this city

    • #4
    • August 7, 2018 at 9:04 am
    • 1 like
  5. Member

    Alex Jones is not being censored. If you want to read, watch, and/or listen to his stuff, you can. It’s free. The podcast is downloadable to anyone with the RSS link. It’s on his own website. You can even download it with iTunes if you really want to!

    A brick & mortar store has no obligation to carry every product. Similarly, Apple, Spotify, Facebook, etc, have no obligation to promote or distribute Alex Jones’ product, or to store his content on their servers. They are not public utilities.

    Distribution of digital media is freakishly inexpensive. Jones will be fine.

    • #5
    • August 7, 2018 at 9:10 am
    • 3 likes
  6. Member

    Misthiocracy, Joke Pending (View Comment):

    Alex Jones is not being censored. If you want to read, watch, and/or listen to his stuff, you can. It’s free. The podcast is downloadable to anyone with the RSS link. It’s on his own website. You can even download it with iTunes if you really want to!

    A brick & mortar store has no obligation to carry every product. Similarly, Apple, Spotify, Facebook, etc, have no obligation to promote or distribute Alex Jones’ product, or to store his content on their servers. They are not public utilities.

    Distribution of digital media is freakishly inexpensive. Jones will be fine.

    This misses the point entirely.

    • #6
    • August 7, 2018 at 9:20 am
    • 8 likes
  7. Member

    Misthiocracy, Joke Pending (View Comment):

    Alex Jones is not being censored. If you want to read, watch, and/or listen to his stuff, you can. It’s free. The podcast is downloadable to anyone with the RSS link. It’s on his own website. You can even download it with iTunes if you really want to!

    A brick & mortar store has no obligation to carry every product. Similarly, Apple, Spotify, Facebook, etc, have no obligation to promote or distribute Alex Jones’ product, or to store his content on their servers. They are not public utilities.

    Distribution of digital media is freakishly inexpensive. Jones will be fine.

    Exactly so.

    However, so are private Internet service providers. You are assuming the larger Internet won’t be similarly censored. Given the deal Google made with China to apply China’s censorship algorithms, I would not assume that.

    I’m having mixed feelings about this. We need a national discussion.

    The PBS and BBC channels were established to protect the public from being squeezed out of the privately funded broadcasting space of the three major networks. How life imitates the Onion: PBS and the BBC have come to control content with a vengeance.

    It’s going to get messy out there, especially now with Europe having equal control over the Internet with the United States. Europe is not a fan of free speech. And by the way, our discussion may be academic anyway. We don’t run the Internet by ourselves anymore.

    • #7
    • August 7, 2018 at 9:26 am
    • 2 likes
  8. Member

    Doctor Robert (View Comment):

    Misthiocracy, Joke Pending (View Comment):

    Alex Jones is not being censored. If you want to read, watch, and/or listen to his stuff, you can. It’s free. The podcast is downloadable to anyone with the RSS link. It’s on his own website. You can even download it with iTunes if you really want to!

    A brick & mortar store has no obligation to carry every product. Similarly, Apple, Spotify, Facebook, etc, have no obligation to promote or distribute Alex Jones’ product, or to store his content on their servers. They are not public utilities.

    Distribution of digital media is freakishly inexpensive. Jones will be fine.

    This misses the point entirely.

    Can you elaborate? Bethany said:

    Bethany Mandel: 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.

    Misthiocracy said it’s not effectively silencing because Jones still has other avenues to speak through (website, podcast). This does not address the issue of bias in who gets banned, but it does address whether or not banning from the major social media sites is the same thing as silencing.

    • #8
    • August 7, 2018 at 9:42 am
    • 1 like
  9. Contributor

    There are a few separate questions here:

    1. Should Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc. have codes of conduct (much as Ricochet does)?
    2. If so, did they apply these standards fairly in their actions against Jones.
    3. Even if the action against Jones was justified, are the standards applied fairly across the ideology spectrum?

    My answers are “Yes,” “Probably,” and “No, but the problem is somewhat exaggerated.”

    • #9
    • August 7, 2018 at 9:58 am
    • 2 likes
  10. Member

    Tom Meyer, Common Citizen (View Comment):

    There are a few separate questions here:

    1. Should Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc. have codes of conduct (much as Ricochet does)?
    2. If so, did they apply these standards fairly in their actions against Jones.
    3. Even if the action against Jones was justified, are the standards applied fairly across the ideology spectrum?

    My answers are “Yes,” “Probably,” and “No, but the problem is somewhat exaggerated.”

    I was with you until “but the problem is somewhat exaggerated” 

    Candice Owens and the new lady from the New York Times show that this is really a problem. Owens got suspended temporarily for highlighting the stuff twitter allows others to say with impunity. 

    • #10
    • August 7, 2018 at 10:05 am
    • 4 likes
  11. Coolidge

    Decently argued all around. LOVE IT.

    I am on the side of letting these companies run themselves. I am sympathetic to the argument they are natural monopolies that should be subject to common carrier regulations on content, but that will stifle innovation in the long run.

    My sense is that these companies’ efforts to regulate content will fail in the end. They are already struggling and the amount of content will grow massively in the future.

    • #11
    • August 7, 2018 at 10:09 am
    • 1 like
  12. Coolidge

    Sorry double post

    • #12
    • August 7, 2018 at 10:09 am
    • Like
  13. Thatcher

    Bethany Mandel: 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.

    If these digital concerns were true advocates of free speech, they would gladly allow Jones to broadcast his views so everyone would know just what a kook he is.

    By censoring him however (and yes, they can as private concerns), they demonstrate the kind of authoritarian behavior they and their friends would use if they had government power.

    Funny how they don’t follow their own rules against hate speech or crackpot ideas when it comes to the left . . .

    • #13
    • August 7, 2018 at 10:10 am
    • 3 likes
  14. Member

    George Townsend (View Comment):

    Bethany,

    I put a “like” on your Post, because I think it is worth talking about. But I don’t know that I agree with you, although I usually do. Alex Jones is truly a cretin. I understand the tenor of your piece. But would you say it ok if Facebook banned a Nazi for calling for the murder of Jews, blacks, or Catholics? Wouldn’t bother me. As you say, these sites are not governmental. I’m inclined to say they should be able to ban truly hateful speech.

    Can’t argue with your analogy George, but the problem seems to be the selective banning by small groups of people who decide what someone can or can’t say, and it seems there is a bias there. We as a society have become so attached to social media, which was launched to “connect friends and family”, and grew to this mammoth thing that is influencing every aspect of our culture, and not for the good.

    • #14
    • August 7, 2018 at 10:12 am
    • 2 likes
  15. Contributor

    So far, I have been able to figure out what exactly Jones said that led to these bannings. Presumably, the offending material is on Jones’s website, but I’m not exactly itching to go wade through hours of crap to try to guess what it might have been.

    FWIW, Facebook’s statement is here. Money quote:

    So what happened with InfoWars? They were up on Friday and now they are down?
    As a result of reports we received, last week, we removed four videos on four Facebook Pages for violating our hate speech and bullying policies. These pages were the Alex Jones Channel Page, the Alex Jones Page, the InfoWars Page and the Infowars Nightly News Page. In addition, one of the admins of these Pages – Alex Jones – was placed in a 30-day block for his role in posting violating content to these Pages.

    Since then, more content from the same Pages has been reported to us — upon review, we have taken it down for glorifying violence, which violates our graphic violence policy, and using dehumanizing language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims and immigrants, which violates our hate speech policies.

    All four Pages have been unpublished for repeated violations of Community Standards and accumulating too many strikes. While much of the discussion around Infowars has been related to false news, which is a serious issue that we are working to address by demoting links marked wrong by fact checkers and suggesting additional content, none of the violations that spurred today’s removals were related to this.

    On the one hand, this is deeply frustrating as we all know how the definition of “hate speech” and even “glorifying violence” can be stretched in partisan ways.

    On the other hand, I’ve sympathy for FB not wishing to open their decision to rules-lawyering and hectoring from all parties, especially given how slippery Jones and his fans can be.

    • #15
    • August 7, 2018 at 10:21 am
    • 1 like
  16. Member

    Alex Jones will seem like a clear-cut case to most people, but Facebook et al. handled it really badly.

    • #16
    • August 7, 2018 at 10:27 am
    • 1 like
  17. Podcaster

    It was a good decision handled badly. The problem is that these “private” companies are acting in concert with a single political party. They are blind to extremists on the left and so the action comes across as hostile instead of reasonable.

    If Facebook, Twitter and YouTube were to announce a consortium to expunge egregious behavior on their sites and did it on a bipartisan basis the world would cheer. 

    The problem is that while everyone one agrees Jones is a whack-a-doodle, they find “kill all the white people” as acceptable discourse. 

     

    • #17
    • August 7, 2018 at 10:31 am
    • 6 likes
  18. Contributor

    Jager (View Comment):

    I was with you until “but the problem is somewhat exaggerated”

    Candice Owens and the new lady from the New York Times show that this is really a problem. Owens got suspended temporarily for highlighting the stuff twitter allows others to say with impunity.

    I agree there’s a problem and would say that Sarah Jeong is an excellent example of shifting standards based solely on identity.

    I disagree with comments I’ve seen here and elsewhere that social media platforms only ban conservatives and never ban leftists.

    • #18
    • August 7, 2018 at 10:43 am
    • 1 like
  19. Contributor

    Stad (View Comment):

    By censoring him however (and yes, they can as private concerns), they demonstrate the kind of authoritarian behavior they and their friends would use if they had government power.

    Is it authoritarian for Ricochet to have and enforce a Code of Conduct?

     

    • #19
    • August 7, 2018 at 10:45 am
    • 2 likes
  20. Thatcher

    Misthiocracy, Joke Pending (View Comment):

    Alex Jones is not being censored. If you want to read, watch, and/or listen to his stuff, you can. It’s free. The podcast is downloadable to anyone with the RSS link. It’s on his own website. You can even download it with iTunes if you really want to!

    A brick & mortar store has no obligation to carry every product. Similarly, Apple, Spotify, Facebook, etc, have no obligation to promote or distribute Alex Jones’ product, or to store his content on their servers. They are not public utilities.

    Distribution of digital media is freakishly inexpensive. Jones will be fine.

    Mis,

    I get it that Jones will be fine. The issue has never been about Jones but the behavior of the mega-platforms. They are claiming to be unbiased. They have targeted Jones for causes far weaker than other sites that have not been taken down. An election is coming up. Endless press coverage has been expended about Russian meddling. It is doubtful that the best efforts of Russian meddling could have anything like the effect of true bias by the mega-platforms.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #20
    • August 7, 2018 at 10:50 am
    • 2 likes
  21. Member

    Bethany Mandel: 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.

    Yes they should, but ultimately it is their call what to do. We can like it or hate it. If you hate it stop using their product in protest. If you can’t then accept that you will have to conform to their social rules. Their house their rules. If conservatives hate their liberal bias they can make their own better Facebook that is truly open or at least oppositly biased. They did that with Fox News. Heck you could turn Ricochet into conservative Facebook. It serves many of the same functions with respect to public conversations. 

     

    • #21
    • August 7, 2018 at 11:09 am
    • 1 like
  22. Member

    James Gawron (View Comment):

    They have targeted Jones for causes far weaker than other sites that have not been taken down. An election is coming up. Endless press coverage has been expended about Russian meddling. It is doubtful that the best efforts of Russian meddling could have anything like the effect of true bias by the mega-platforms.

    Regards,

    Jim

    So what? Facebook is American they have every right to influence the election, so long as they dont break any laws to do so. And so far no one seem to be claiming they acted illegally. Even shadowbanning isnt illegal. The thrust here seems to be it is unfair that liberals control all these things they built. This is just like liberal whining about the Murdocs and Fox News and talk radio. 

     

    • #22
    • August 7, 2018 at 11:17 am
    • 2 likes
  23. Contributor

    Misthiocracy, Joke Pending (View Comment):

    Alex Jones is not being censored. If you want to read, watch, and/or listen to his stuff, you can. It’s free. The podcast is downloadable to anyone with the RSS link. It’s on his own website. You can even download it with iTunes if you really want to!

    Correct. Now, it’d be an interesting question as to whether or not his web host also cut ties, but that hasn’t happened yet.

    • #23
    • August 7, 2018 at 11:23 am
    • 1 like
  24. Thatcher

    Bethany Mandel: 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.

    Thank you Bethany. The clever rhetorical denial of many conservatives today is too predictable. Jones is an acid-souled scoundrel. But don’t imagine that your views, my conservative friends, are held in any higher regard than Jones’ conspiracy rants by the tech powers that be.

    Conservative views on climate change, education, economic regulation, income inequality, the entire gender agenda, affirmative action, abortion and those lethal tax cuts will be next in the cross hairs.

    Hell, Henry Racette is going to need a Ricochet version of witness protection soon. The ACLU is now the legal arm of the SPLC, the old liberal “disagree but protect to the death” is almost unrecognized by liberals. Sure there are a few old school liberal stalwarts like Floyd Abrams, but that breed is figuratively and literally dying.

    Yes, they are coming for us. And we better have more than polite intellectual logic chopping in our arsenal.

    Sometimes the first shots in a siege kill the lowlife scum who are robbing the corpses outside the walls.

    Doesn’t mean the siege isn’t coming.

    • #24
    • August 7, 2018 at 11:49 am
    • 6 likes
  25. Coolidge

    I’m personally much more upset about Pinterest banning Infowars. Mostly because I’m just amused about the possibility of there being any overlap in the Venn diagram of Infowars nut job fans and Pinterest users. 

    Seriously though, I think David French has the right idea. In the NYT today he suggests that companies like Facebook and YouTube use the legal standards for libel and slander instead of the vague and potentially biased “hate speech” when deciding if accounts should be banned. Alex Jones probably qualifies for banning this way, and it avoids the dangerous problem with banning someone for their ideas.

    • #25
    • August 7, 2018 at 12:18 pm
    • 3 likes
  26. Coolidge

    Quake Voter (View Comment):
    the old liberal “disagree but protect to the death” is almost unrecognized by liberals. Sure there are a few old school liberal stalwarts like Floyd Abrams, but that breed is figuratively and literally dying.

    Yep. I think it’s ironic that the line Bethany quotes from The American President (a movie I despise) was from the liberal “hero” of the movie attacking his conservative opponent. Even then it was nonsense. Liberals have been in denial for a long time about the fact that they no longer value free speech.

    • #26
    • August 7, 2018 at 12:23 pm
    • 2 likes
  27. Contributor

    Nick H (View Comment):

    Seriously though, I think David French has the right idea. In the NYT today he suggests that companies like Facebook and YouTube use the legal standards for libel and slander instead of the vague and potentially biased “hate speech” when deciding if accounts should be banned. Alex Jones probably qualifies for banning this way, and it avoids the dangerous problem with banning someone for their ideas.

    Seconded.

    • #27
    • August 7, 2018 at 12:32 pm
    • 3 likes
  28. Member

    @bethanymandel: did you personally verify, or did someone you implicitly trust personally verify, that Jones actually said all the things he is alleged to have said, or are you drawing from news reports from trusted sources like the Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC and the like?

    I was just listening to Jones being interviewed live by Michael Savage, and says that, at least in many cases, he did not say what he is alleged to have said.

    His claim is that he is a test case for the coordinated deplatforming of disfavored public figures.

    • #28
    • August 7, 2018 at 12:45 pm
    • Like
  29. Podcaster

    Tom Meyer: Is it authoritarian for Ricochet to have and enforce a Code of Conduct?

    It’s not “authoritarian” to have rules, it’s always how you enforce it.

    • #29
    • August 7, 2018 at 12:54 pm
    • 2 likes
  30. Member

    Bethany Mandel:

    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.

    I know it sometimes seems like everyone is on Facebook, or everyone is on Twitter, Youtube, and so on, but I don’t think that’s actually true. And even if everyone were on those platforms, they also consume information from a variety of other sources. Also, they only see a tiny fraction of the content those platforms.

    I don’t think this controversy is worth compromising the freedom of a private entity to regulate its content (not that anyone has necessarily called for that explicitly). There has always been a social pressure to be polite, to follow certain rules of decency, and those who violate those rules have always been shut out of certain media. The ability to shut out certain voices was even stronger in the past, when there were only a few newspapers to try to get into, a handful of tv and radio stations. Potential sources of information, outlets to get messages into the public, have only expanded in recent decades. Expanded greatly. And gotten cheaper. Websites, social media, self-publishing, podcasts, good old fashioned email newsletters, and so on. It seems odd we should worry so much about private companies regulating their content, as the practical ability for individuals to be heard expands.

     

     

     

    • #30
    • August 7, 2018 at 1:28 pm
    • 1 like
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