The explosive news Monday was that tech giants Facebook, Spotify, YouTube, and Apple banned Alex Jones and Infowars from their respective platforms. While Jones is a controversial figure who peddles in rumor, conspiracy, and innuendo, the concerted action from separately-owned and -managed Silicon Valley entities is unsettling.
Historian Victor Davis Hanson wrote a piece for National Review arguing that Silicon Valley giants should be regulated—or even busted up—to prevent monopolistic and anti-competitive practices, drawing parallels to the muckraking reformers of the early twentieth century who brought down Standard Oil. I’m wary of such solutions-by-government, but Hanson was anticipating a problem that has become all-too familiar: the massive social and cultural clout the unmoored tech giants wield.
Steven Crowder of online late-night show Louder with Crowder often pokes fun at—and complains loudly about—the various murky “terms and services” and “community guidelines” rules that are ever-shifting in continuously updated apps and platforms. A slight change in a Facebook algorithm—or a Twitter employee having a bad day—can lead to massive reductions in traffic for a YouTuber or blogger. Reduced—or eliminated—traffic means less revenue. YouTubers like Crowder who helped build the platform now find their videos demonetized for the most mysterious of reasons.
Candace Owens was kicked from Twitter because she rewrote recent New York Times hire and anti-white racist Sarah Jeong’s tweets by replacing disparaging uses of “white” with “black” or “Jew.” Razorfirst posted a video some months ago of him literally just talking about nonsense for five minutes… and it was immediately demonetized.
Now Alex Jones is banned across multiple platforms from multiple platforms—which is absolutely chilling. Jones is certainly not without controversy, and I wouldn’t take his ramblings to heart without a heaping helping of salt, but just because he’s a kinda nutty conspiracy kook who enjoys ripping his shirt off doesn’t make his situation any less terrible. If we write off Jones because he was “asking for it” by being kooky, then we’re missing the whole point of free speech.
And, yes, the usual objections are inevitable: “but, TPP, the First Amendment speech protections only apply to the government! Companies can set whatever guidelines they want! You can use some other platform! He still has his website.” Yes, yes, yes, and yes—all true. Nevertheless, the arbitrary power we’ve voluntarily—if unwittingly—yielded to these tech elites is staggering. And this preponderance of power may be where Hanson has a point.
Is not the function of the government to protect the rights of its citizens from threats and violations, both foreign and domestic? In this case, arbitrary bans—particularly these coordinated attacks on controversial figures—seem to be a powerful means of preventing an individual and/or entity from delivering his message in the public square. Like the street corner doomsayer, Alex Jones has a right to be heard, even if he’s sometimes insane (for me, the jury is out on Jones; I enjoy the entertainment value of his commentary, and I think he’s probably right about 80% of the time, but then he veers off into crisis actors, etc.—the danger of a man who is charismatic and convincing).
Today, it’s a relatively buffoonish character like Jones. Tomorrow—who knows? Do we really want to find out? “Hate speech” is a code word for silencing conservatives. It’s better to publish one racist screed from a lonely nut (not referencing Jones here, to be clear) than to muzzle millions because their innocuous, mainstream conservative viewpoint might been interpreted as a “dog-whistle.”
Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and it’s often better to give madmen the rope with which to hang themselves. When we try to silence them, they only gain in credibility (indeed, when I read the news, I immediately went… to Infowars!).