As a libertarian who finds himself getting more strident in his libertarianism with each passing year, I stand strongly for the right of social media giants like Facebook, YouTube, and Apple to do whatever they want with their platform. Unlike former President Barack Obama, I realize that when it comes to their platforms, they did build that, and they can do with it more or less as they please.
Some have argued that the social media giants have a social or legal obligation to carry Alex Jones’ material because they form a monopoly or at least an oligopoly, but this contention also lacks both persuasiveness and factual support. There are scads of social media sites (including new ones that crop up seemingly every day), and they are all competitors with each other for content, especially exclusive content.
The competition among Facebook, Google (the owner of YouTube), and Apple is notoriously cutthroat and advanced, and any one of them would have certainly enjoyed substantial extra revenue being the only social media platform on which you could find the rantings of Alex Jones.
It isn’t often that publicly traded companies will pass up virtually free revenue, but sometimes being associated with some content is so distasteful that it becomes worth it. Fine. At the end of the day, there are consequences to being so odious that you aren’t welcome in polite conversation; in this case, those consequences consist pretty much entirely of lost money for Alex Jones.
Jones’ free speech isn’t being suppressed and no one is preventing his message from getting out; if you want to watch literally the exact same videos that have been removed from social media sites, all you have to do is point your browser to Infowars dot com and voila! there they are.
That having been said, while it is easy to say that Jones got what was coming to him for being a performance-artist conspiracy crank who basically admitted in his divorce hearings that his entire show is a schtick to make a comfortable living by feeding the delusions of the paranoid, it is facially obvious that the current crop of social media giants do NOT scrutinize left-wing cranks and provocateurs with the same zeal that they do their right-wing brethren.
Sandy Hook trutherism is ridiculous and distasteful, but no more so than 9/11 trutherism, and a quick search of Facebook and YouTube indicates that no serious effort is being made to remove videos or communities that specialize in this vile tradition.
On March 31, 2004, four civilian contractors were ambushed by gunmen in Iraq, dragged from their cars, mutilated by a mob, dragged through the streets of Fallujah, and set on fire. Their corpses were hung from a bridge in a grotesque display that shocked the world, since the entire incident was caught on video. Markos Moulitsas, founder of prominent liberal site Daily Kos, responded to the spectacle of his fellow countrymen being tortured to death by an Iraqi mob by saying, “I feel nothing for the death of mercenaries… They are there to wage war for profit. Screw them.” I am not exactly sure how the content that got Alex Jones banned is worse than this, but the Daily Kos seems to still be operating in good standing on YouTube,
When mild-mannered Houston Chronicle blogger Kat McKinley gets banned from Twitter for two ridiculously innocuous tweets, but Jason Sattler spits uninterrupted anti-conservative raunch and invective as @LOLGOP (whose Twitter avatar is a Republican elephant sexually pleasuring itself) with no action taken, you know the scales of justice are NOT even in social media world.
Of course, the correct response to these facts, for conservatives who feel strongly about companies with clear liberal bias, would be to not patronize the guilty platforms. The dearth of available alternatives highlights a problem that conservatives would be wise to correct; namely, that almost all of the good platform-building online these days is done by liberals.
If conservatives find themselves frustrated with the current social media landscape, they should direct some of that frustration inward at a movement that has frankly done a terrible job of encouraging and developing truly creative internet products (as opposed to derivative copies of pre-existing products that were created by liberals).
But at the end of the day, I wish the social media giants hadn’t banned Alex Jones, even though I find his whole schtick to be just as distasteful and offensive as they do. The reason is pretty simple: The best way to increase the credibility of a conspiracy theorist with his audience is to try to silence him. The sort of people who listen to Alex Jones and actually believe his daily rants have personalities that feed on paranoia and delusions of persecution.
Any conspiracy theorist knows that his audience wants to hear that powerful outside forces are trying to silence him. This salve at once offers an explanation for why more people don’t believe in what we, the audience, know to be true. It also fosters the feeling of being on the inside of their own secret society that stands in solidarity with one another. It is the feeling of belonging to a special, enlightened cadre that really drives the existence of Infowars’ audience.
And lo, the social media giants who have banned Alex Jones have given him endless, legitimate grist for this mill. I am not privy to Infowars’ business model, so I am not sure how much money they made off of their partnerships with Facebook, YouTube, and Apple, but I would be surprised if, in the long run, this doesn’t turn out to be a net positive for Jones’ bottom line — and it definitely will be in terms of his standing with his audience.
By making his proprietary website the sole online purveyor of his content, they have provided him with endless ammunition to trumpet his persecution at the hands of liberal elites while simultaneously putting him in sole control of the distribution of his content, which will allow him to effectively charge whatever he wants to his increasingly fervent audience. Indeed, a brief perusal of the Infowars site today shows that Jones is using the exposure to increase his own proprietary distribution of his show with all his trademark savviness.
The right way to deal with a person like Alex Jones, if you are really interested in discrediting his wacky theories, is to let as much sunlight to shine on them as possible. Point out that literally no one is actually trying to silence him, and in fact, he is getting the help of major tech companies, who distribute his product for free. Respond to his nonsense by pairing it alongside actual facts, rather than acting like one of the conspiracies he rants about on a daily basis. That’s what I wish the social media giants had done.
I don’t have any sort of legal or moral objection to the social media giants who decided they didn’t want Alex Jones on their platform. But they have certainly increased Jones’ standing with his own audience and probably will end up increasing his influence with the news — and that isn’t good news for America.