Tech giants are right to purge Alex Jones from platforms

Tech giants are right to purge Alex Jones from platforms

The question shouldn’t be why has Alex Jones been banned from major social media platforms? Instead, we should be asking why did it take so long for the tech companies to do it?

Facebook, YouTube, Spotify, and Apple have all removed pages or channels belonging to Alex Jones, who runs InfoWars, a media outlet that peddles conspiracy theories. One of Jones’ most notable, and hurtful, “stories” is that the 2012 massacre of elementary students at Sandy Hook was staged. He has also verbally attacked immigrants, Muslims, LGBT people and women.

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Yet, for years, major social media platforms allowed Jones to spew his vitriolic rhetoric on the platforms, citing free speech concerns and that Jones was not violating platform policies.

 

For Facebook, this has been the posture even as late as July. It was then when CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergFight looms over national privacy law Facebook teaming with nonprofits to fight fake election news China may be copying Facebook to build an intelligence weapon MORE essentially defended the decision to keep pages like InfoWars active, because he thinks that “there are things that different people get wrong," and that he doesn’t think “that they're intentionally getting it wrong."

These platforms do not want to be seen as editors or gatekeepers of what goes on their sites. Oddly enough, though, years of taking that stance dissipated in less than 24 hours for many of the notable titans of tech.

The domino effect

This all seemed to change for Facebook and others after Apple was the first to remove the majority of podcasts on iTunes published by Jones for hateful speech. Within hours, Spotify, YouTube and Facebook did their own purging.

About a month since defending its stance to keep InfoWars active on its network, Facebook now says, “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 policies."

Just like that, in 24 hours, InfoWars lost its ability to easily access and distribute to billions of people.

The grandest conspiracy of all?  

Jones claims (surprise, surprise) that this is a globalist conspiracy against him. That censorship is at the core of his banning, and he is a victim of an agenda.

This issue has sparked more reasonable arguments from others, though. It goes something as follows, as despicable as Alex Jones is, removing him is a step towards removing free speech on the web. The fear is that these private companies, holding so much power, should not be the ones controlling who is allowed to say what.

A point being made is that instead of banning speech, let the free-market decide. If people find InfoWars to be unworthy of their time, then it will lose its audience and thus its funding.

And the truth is, that is a good argument. But I think there is a better one for why it was these platforms obligation to remove his presence.

You live by the sword, you die by the sword

While I am sympathetic to the free speech debate, Jones is not having his speech stripped away completely. Yes, it has become much harder for him to spread his message, but he built his business off the fickle nature of these social media platforms. Meaning, you take a gamble if you put all your proverbial eggs in one basket.  

Remember, these tech companies are private companies. They have the right to decide what content goes on their platforms. Just as Jones couldn’t knock on NBC’s door tomorrow and demand that he is given a show on primetime, these social media companies do not have to give him space on their “airwaves” either.

I know others (including myself) have made the point that these platforms should be treated more as a public good. That can still be true, though, even with giving Jones the boot.

For example, even though airlines are private companies, they cannot deny someone a flight because of what that person believes. However, if the person comes on every flight and insults passengers, tries to incite fear and intimidation, and does not follow the rules, the airline then has every right to reject service to them. Companies can certainly use discretion, and in this case, these platforms removed the awful passenger.

He can still say what he wants to

Jones still has ways to spew his bile. He has a website, he could publish a book, he could tap into his e-newsletter, he’s still on some other big social media platforms — you get the picture. No one threw him in jail for what he said. He just has to find a different way of shouting out his stupidity now.

Jones made a fortune by tapping into the power of social media platforms, but just as a television star who has his show canceled learns, you never really own your audience.

It’s now evident that social media platforms own the access to his audience, and they have every legal and moral right to cancel it.

Adam Chiara is an assistant professor of communication at the University of Hartford. He has worked as a legislative aide in the Connecticut General Assembly, as a journalist, and in PR. He's on Twitter at @AdamChiara.