the last week, Apple, Facebook, Spotify, and YouTube have all taken down
content and channels from right-wing fringe type Alex Jones and his
outlet InfoWars. These channels had millions of subscribers and billions
of views, and Jones used them to spread sometimes wacky information and
interact with people across the world.
is most well-known for his radio show, “The Alex Jones Show,” and
InfoWars.com, his site that covers far-right issues and conspiracy
theories at length. He also runs PrisonPlanet.com and NewsWars.com. He’s
a self-described libertarian and paleoconservative.
known for being a strong proponent of gun rights, strongly pro-Trump,
and anti-Clinton, he also holds less-mainstream views. Some of those
include opposing vaccinations, saying vaccines cause autism and that
children’s programming normalizes autism. Jones’s media empire also
delves into conspiracy theories, like that the government controls the
weather and can weaponize it, that race wars are imminent, and that
numerous school shootings were false flags, or governmental covert
not entirely accurate to describe this as purging Jones from the
Internet, since his websites are still online and his content is stillstreamable
directly from those sites. However, when these companies removed
Jones and his content they made it much more difficult for Jones to
interact with new people. This might not be government censorship, but
it is suppressing his ideas and views, and those of others on his
You Think Is Hate Speech Isn’t What Others Do
of Jones’s views are problematic and troubling. It’s certainly not only
liberals and centrist people who find Jones and his ideas disagreeable.
This isn’t about agreeing or disagreeing with someone, though, it’s
about whether part of a free society is having no discussion at all
about certain ideas.
there be views that are considered so problematic, or are expressed in
ways that are so hateful and inflammatory, that the largest channels for
virtual discussion no longer host them or allow links to them? That’s
really what’s at stake here, not Jones himself or his individual
companies are defending the content removals, citing material that
violated user agreements.YouTube
explained that, “When users violate … policies repeatedly, like
our policies against hate speech and harassment or our terms prohibiting
circumvention of our enforcement measures, we terminate their accounts.”Facebook’s
removalscame after they decided that Jones’s
material was violent: “Upon review, we have taken it down for glorifying
violence … and using dehumanizing language to describe people who are
transgender, Muslims and immigrants, which violates our hate speech
similar: “Apple does not tolerate hate speech, and we have
clear guidelines that creators and developers must follow to ensure we
provide a safe environment for all of our users.” None of these reasons
are frivolous, and as private companies Google, Apple, and Facebook do
have the ability to set their own usage terms.
as social media plays a bigger and bigger part in daily lives and public
discourse, it’s worth examining if these platforms are no longer merely
trivial or lighthearted but have become interwoven with the fabric of
our society. These companies have courted and encouraged this dynamic,
and they’ve worked to make themselves indispensable and important parts
of sharing information and talking through ideas.
the ‘Fringe’ Line Be Drawn by Liberal Techsters?
I’m not always a fan of slippery slope arguments, this is a time to
examine if this is only the beginning of stripping away content creators
who don’t agree with mainline or politically correct positions, and that
should deeply concern everyone interested in free speech, even those who
don’t care for Jones and his positions.
not too far a leap to worry about this. Facebook especially merits
concern, with its recent removal of content that they deemed fake news,including
satirical materials like those of the Babylon Bee. While Facebook
walked back on that move after an outcry, it took the public noticing
and pushing back for them to reverse.
Babylon Bee had published a clearly over-the-top satirical story
headlined “CNN Purchases Industrial Sized Washing Machine to Spin News
Before Publication,” and was quickly notified that they faced
demonetization and a reduction in reach for it. Conservative sites, even
those focused on humor and satire, are clearly in the line of fire for
these media giants, and it’s important for all of us to contemplate what
it means if they start just shutting down everything they don’t
less than a generation into life with social media, and all of this is
new and evolving. This is the time to decide what’s the right place for
private companies and their role in discussion and the dissemination of
information, and free speech needs to be protected as a fundamental
it’s Jones and InfoWars. But we don’t know what views will be over the
invisible line tomorrow, and where that line will end up. Deeming some
content too extreme, too hateful, too egregious means that eventually
any content can be unacceptable, and that should be a terrifying
thought. This isn’t about protecting Jones, it’s about protecting the
views of everyone.
Scheer is a writer and editor. She’s fascinated by politics, culture and
theology. Follow her on Twitter @HScheer1580.