Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has been the subject of content deletions and platform bans by a number of companies over the past two weeks, including Apple, Facebook, Spotify, YouTube, YouPorn, and Pinterest, with company spokespeople citing Jones’ repeat violations of net-abuse policies and failure to abide by platform publishing requirements as the common themes and causes of termination.
Before moving on to my own comments on the situation, I’d like to share two responses which I felt were particularly measured and insightful:
On to the bigger picture, then.
First, can we agree it’s time we backed off and left Alex Jones to his well deserved fate? The man made his bed, now he’s welcome to lie in it and go back to being the pariah he was before Donald Trump put him in the spotlight.
Second, can we please stop calling it censorship? Jones doesn’t lack a platform of his own. He’s been self-publishing through his personal InfoWars website and selling products through his online store for many years. Framing this as de-platforming is missing the point. Not only does Jones have a media company he can use any time he wishes without limits, but it was his own decision to ignore the rules of third-party platforms on which he’d grossly overstayed his welcome.
While some aspects of the situation could have been handled differently (I’ll get to that later), overall there is no sympathy due. Jones has been poking and throwing rocks at this particular bear for years, knowing in the back of his mind that one day it was going to wake up and slap the ever-loving shit out of him. The only unexpected part was how long it took.
To those who cry ‘free speech,’ I note that freedom of speech has never been about freedom from logical consequences or freedom from criticism. Both happen in the real world, and in this case several key businesses have come to the conclusion that they’d rather not let Alex Jones use their networks as a vehicle for disinformation, defamation, and alleged defamation.
While American defamation laws and safe harbour protections insulate from lawsuits caused by user-submitted content, they don’t do anything to stave off the bad PR and bruising to corporate image that come from associating with a person who’s made living off of trolling the public in some of the most base and ugly ways imaginable.
As wiser journalists have pointed out, Jones’ flouting of Acceptable Use Policies, harassment of innocents, othering of minorities, and seeming inability to sustain polite relationships with other human beings online rise to the level of corporate governance, but not the First Amendment.
Similar arguments could be made against numerous impressionable Jones fans who’ve taken him too literally over the years and engaged in harassment, violence, and defamation, some of which rises to the level of criminal behaviour.