FACEBOOK has banned Alex Jones, a man who peddles in putrid conspiracy theories. And that’s actually a bad thing.
ALEX Jones has built his media empire, Infowars, by saying outlandish things. He has had to issue apologies because, again and again, he has inaccurately accused prominent people of sexual crimes. The families of two children killed at Sandy Hook are suing him for defamation, after he implied the mass shooting was staged. He has alleged that the moon landing was fake, 9/11 was an inside job, and that the government is putting chemicals in the water which are “making the friggin’ frogs gay”. He is, in short, not a source one cites if one wishes to be taken seriously.
Among his other conspiratorial claims, Alex Jones has insisted, for years, that a small cabal of powerful globalist elites is trying to silence him. Perhaps it’s just a case of a broken clock being right twice a day but this week, a small cabal of powerful globalist elites did, actually, try to silence him.
Within 12 hours, Apple and Spotify took down Infowars podcasts, Facebook scuttled the Infowars page, and YouTube (which is owned by the people who own Google) deleted the Infowars account and videos. There has, it seems, been an executive decision to de-platform Alex Jones.
In the past, social media companies have been eager to portray themselves as the good guys. They like to look as though they’re interested in defending the right to freedom of speech. As recently as last month, Facebook publicly made the case that banning so-called ‘fake news’ sources, specifically Infowars, would “be contrary to the basic principles of free speech”.
Now, Facebook, Google, Apple and Spotify — titans of the internet age, the people who control our personal information, correspondence, music, news and entertainment — are, by their own standard, violating freedom of speech.
None of the tech giants have cited why, specifically, they’re removing Jones’ content. Facebook, contradicting their old position, now says that Infowars “violates our hate speech policies”.
How, exactly, remains to be explained. YouTube says Infowars has breached “community guidelines” although, again, we don’t have details. Apple has defended itself by saying it won’t “tolerate hate speech”. Obviously, this is not true; even if one was to define Alex Jones and Infowars as ‘hate speakers’, Apple was tolerating them before yesterday, and isn’t tolerating them now. By anyone’s definition, even those who loathe and mock Infowars, this is a purge.
Of course, these corporations are well within their rights to banish whoever they please. They are businesses and are run for profit. They don’t have an obligation to preserve free speech; they have an obligation to make money for their shareholders. How they choose to do that is up to them. That might mean, say, recording everything you do online and selling that information to the highest bidder.
This should terrify us. The internet was supposed to make information free and accessible, sweeping away repressive cultural gatekeepers and ushering in a new, democratic free-for-all. Instead, control of the world’s culture has consolidated in the hands of a tiny group of insanely wealthy people living in Silicon Valley.
They are accountable only to themselves. Anybody with a social media account, anybody with a business that depends on social media, is at their mercy. From the world’s most hilarious Facebook page, or most erotic Instagram account conceivable, to the messages you send your mother, it all belongs to Mark Zuckerberg. He can do with it as he pleases.
Many are celebrating the removal of Alex Jones and Infowars from social media. Some are pushing for other platforms like Twitter to follow suit in booting them into obscurity. This outpouring of schadenfreude is understandable (considering how bonkers Jones carries on) but misguided.
The tech giants who have arbitrarily silenced Infowars — which was apparently protected under “free speech” before yesterday, only to be removed as “hate speech” — have the power to silence anybody they want, whenever they like. Infowars was purged, probably because it was convenient from a PR point of view. Who else, one wonders, will it be convenient for these corporate entities to obliterate? Comedians who make jokes in bad taste? Pro-democracy dissidents in Beijing? Politicians who propose policies that the tech giants don’t like? You?
This purge has already emboldened Alex Jones and his supporters. They will continue to huff and puff in whichever little patch of the internet they still possess. Their reach has diminished, no doubt, but on this topic at least, the raving doesn’t seem quite as conspiratorial anymore.
James McCann is a freelance journalist. Follow him on Twitter: @jdfmccann