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Why deplatform Alex Jones now? It may have something to do with this week’s news that Jones is continuing to make life miserable for ordinary Americans he believes are engaged in “wrongthink”: he believes that their belief that they’re just grieving families, not actors in an elaborate hoax, is a belief too wrong to let alone. Alex Jones — the “sheeple” king — has no problem with harassing others over their “wrongthink” as long as his gang is the gang getting away with it.
Back in April, three parents of Sandy Hook shooting victims began suing Jones for defamation. In turn, this August Jones is seeking over $100,000 in damages from the parents of shooting victim Noah Pozner, adding financial insult to the years of injury they’ve already had to endure at the hands of Jones and his fans:
According to their suit, Jones first alleged in a March 2014 InfoWars broadcast that an interview between De La Rosa and CNN’s Anderson Cooper had been faked and filmed in front of a “blue screen.” Jones has repeated this claim several times since then.
“He was relentless in stating the event was fake and that my family were part of a cover-up,” Pozner said in an affidavit.
Pozner said his family has been forced to move seven times since the shooting to escape “conspiracy fanatics” who have harassed them. One such fanatic, Lucy Richards, pleaded guilty to leaving Pozner death threats. She was ordered by a Florida judge to steer clear of InfoWars content as a condition of her probation.
Houston-based attorney Mark Bankston, representing Pozner and De La Rosa, elicited gasps from the packed gallery during the hearing on the motion to dismiss Wednesday when he told the court that Jones shared in a 2015 broadcast the address and a map to the family’s home, after taking a call from a viewer who threatened the family on air. [emphasis added]
Why deplatform Jones now? Maybe this is why.
The Pozners aren’t the only ones who have suffered harassment at the hands of Jones’s fans. Neil Haslin is another Sandy Hook parent suing Jones for defamation. Jones and his fans have also immiserated Marcel Fontaine by falsely identifying Fontaine as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter:
Fontaine claims InfoWars broadcast his photo to hundreds of millions of people, subjecting him to ridicule and threats from as far away as China.
The good thing about a threat from China, at least, is that the one making the threat is unlikely to show up on your doorstep, much less with a loaded gun. The same cannot be said of the Comet Ping Pong shooter, Edgar Maddison Welch, one of Alex Jones’s listeners who decided to “shine some light on” the Pizzagate conspiracy Jones had propagated by visiting Comet Ping Pong in person, armed.
Jones cannot — and should not — be held legally responsible for all the harassment his fans have inflicted on others. Nor should he be held morally responsible for all of it. But a man who will “broadcast the address and a map to the family’s home, after taking a call from a viewer who threatened the family on air”, leading to years of harassment, is morally responsible for some of it. Jones has demonstrated a pattern of behavior endorsing and abetting the harassment of ordinary Americans for daring to believe they are who they say they are, not who Alex Jones says they are.
Facebook’s statement on Jones’s violation of community standards is quite vague. Disturbingly vague, in fact. Any platform, no matter how popular, deserves to be able to refuse to host a man who abets the harassment of private citizens the way Jones evidently has. There should be no shame in Facebook straightforwardly announcing this fact, and there is shame in the fact that they didn’t.
“Come to our platform for the Likes — stay for the chance to have your life ruined by Alex Jones and his fans!” isn’t a reputation any platform should want, and there should be no shame in saying so. Facebook has apparently had a longstanding policy of erring on the side of vagueness when it comes to explaining its moderating decisions. It claims that explaining too much invites hecklers to game the system. As a mod myself, I understand that general explanation. I also understand why people worry the vagueness will be abused.
By all means, let’s worry that the vagueness of Facebook’s community standards leaves them open for abuse. As @drewinwisconsin put it, “Nobody wants to defend Alex Jones. We want to defend ourselves from being the next Alex Jones.” That’s fair enough. But in defending ourselves, it’s reasonable to ask, are we effectively defending Jones’s behavior, too? If we dance around what Jones has really done, I believe we are. He is a man who appears to have no qualms about abusing private citizens who disagree with his personal version of reality. Ordinary Americans are just the “sheeple”, after all: Jones has repeatedly behaved as if they deserve the harassment they get at his fans’ hands.
All of us who worry that vigilantism against “wrongthink” will be used to silence us should be aware that Jones himself is one of these vigilantes. That Jones’s own brand of vigilante justice is more anti-PC than PC doesn’t change this fact. Do we fear the heckler’s veto? Jones is himself a heckler, one whose fanbase gives Jones’s heckler’s veto far more power than most of us could dream of having. Jones will survive deplatforming. His voice will not be silenced. The same could not be said for the voices of ordinary Americans who might get on Jones’s bad side.
Maybe Alex Jones really has set up a lose-lose proposition for free speech. On the one hand, deplatforming him does have a chilling effect on the culture of free speech. On the other hand, not deplatforming him also has a chilling effect on the culture of free speech: why should any of us ordinary citizens speak up if doing so risks attracting the kind of vicious harassment Jones evidently has a history of abetting? If we pity the poor, harassed Alex Jones, persecuted for his “wrongthink”, we should extend that same pity to those whom Alex Jones has himself harassed. We should believe it right and proper for platforms to refuse to endorse this kind of kind of harassment, even if we don’t appreciate — indeed, even if we fear — their vague justifications. If we fail to do so, we aren’t merely defending ourselves: we are defending Jones.