There have been many different views expressed about the recent crackdown on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones by four media giants. (This has now become five after Vimeo, the site he escaped to, banned him too.) There are those who defend Jones under the First Amendment, those who defend him based on his right-wing politics, and those who believe that the crackdown reinforces his theories. However, there is also a belief that much of what he says is hateful, and often downright false, and that this needs to be stopped.
There are also people who believe that some of his content is of comedic value, and that, while the hate-filled rants and fake news needs to be stopped, the less harmful theories shouldn’t be censored. Here’s a breakdown of the noise coming from all sides — and why most of the protagonists are wrong.
Firstly, there are those who are vehemently defending Alex Jones. Their motive is usually a mix of a few different reasons: their political beliefs, their love and belief in his conspiracy theories, and free speech and the First Amendment. However, the defence of him in some fringe media outlets and by his supporters often disproportionately focuses on the First Amendment.
This is a perfectly valid defence — in the US people have the absolute right to say what they feel and think — , but it is somewhat flawed. Firstly, let’s look at what the Amendment actually says:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
It should be relatively simple to spot the flaws in the argument that this can be used as a legal defence against private companies. First, the relevant part is that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press”. This essentially means that Congress can’t stop free speech — but private companies can block out a person or organisation. This also only applies to the USA, and, as all of these organisations are international, albeit registered in the US, they are still free to do whatever they want with regard to censorship.
Of course, you are free to believe that censorship is wrong if you want. However, if a company believes that hate speech is serious enough to override free speech, then that is their prerogative. If Alex Jones wishes to bounce back from this setback to him, then he will, I imagine, blame the media for being part of the deep state, and build a platform for himself using his online presence with the Infowars site.
Indeed, many people defend Alex Jones because they believe that a crackdown validates his conspiracy theories, and, whether these people believe him or not, they fear Jones emerging with even greater strength than before.
Conversely, there are those who attack Alex Jones and believe that he is peddling not only hate speech but also fake news, and many believe that the combination of these means he shouldn’t be able to have a platform. The FCC does require typical cable news organisations to conform to guidelines about the truthfulness of their content, and many think that this should apply to influential figures such as Alex Jones too.
Some of the conspiracy theories built on this fake news are particularly incendiary, and have serious consequences. For example, his comments about the Sandy Hook shooting — of elementary school-age children — where he called the incident a hoax designed by liberals to bring about gun control caused stress for those associated with the incident, especially parents of those who were killed. Now, he is being sued for slander, as well as having other court cases against him.
While the major media platforms that banned Jones cite breaking guidelines for the removal, many speculate that the emergence of these court cases about very sensitive matters was the main cause.
His racist, Islamophobic, sexist, and homophobic rants also attract a great deal of attack from all over the political spectrum — albeit mainly from the left. The fake news, hate speech, and lack of sensitivity about subjects such as school shootings have left many, including myself, backing the decision of the media giants.
However, I fear the ulterior motives of these platforms. If this is a genuine attempt to remove fake news, which I trust it is, then it is a very welcome attempt indeed. It will help, hopefully, to restore some democratic integrity.
Unfortunately, there is still reason to believe that these organisations are attempting instead to influence elections towards a certain side. For example, the inability to remove fake news from the opposite end of the political spectrum does raise concerns. In addition, all of these organisations are known to be exceedingly liberal, often lurching towards the obscene — like when Youtube tweeted out: “Roses are red, Violets are blue, Subscribe to black creators” for no good reason whatsoever.
While there are valid concerns about the motive behind the move — and what it reveals about the immense power large online platforms wield — the move is, I believe, the correct one. On balance, there are good arguments for and against, but the restoration of democratic integrity is of the utmost importance, and this will hopefully aid this goal.