YouTube, Facebook and Apple have taken steps to remove content associated with InfoWars and its Alex Jones.
Each social media platform said Monday that it had removed content from Jones or InfoWars because it had violated their policies. The companies’ moves shut down key distribution channels that had given the controversial media figure easy access to millions of internet users.
The most dramatic action came last, from YouTube, which is owned by Google (). It removed many top channels associated with InfoWars, including The Alex Jones Channel, which had 2.4 million subscribers and videos that were viewed over 1.5 billion times.
“When users violate … policies repeatedly, like our policies against hate speech and harassment or our terms prohibiting circumvention of our enforcement measures, we terminate their accounts,” said a spokesperson for YouTube.
But in a message posted Monday on Twitter, Jones encouraged users to access live streams directly from the InfoWars website. He described it as “the one platform that they CAN’T ban.”
Earlier on Monday, Facebook removed four pages associated with InfoWars and Jones for repeated violations of its policies.
The social media platform said in a statement that it had “unpublished” the Alex Jones Channel Page, the Alex Jones Page, the InfoWars Page and the Infowars Nightly News Page.
BuzzFeed News reported on Sunday that Apple () had removed five podcasts associated with InfoWars from iTunes and its podcast app.
“Apple does not tolerate hate speech, and we have clear guidelines that creators and developers must follow to ensure we provide a safe environment for all of our users,” it said in a statement provided to BuzzFeed News.
“Podcasts that violate these guidelines are removed from our directory making them no longer searchable or available for download or streaming. We believe in representing a wide range of views, so long as people are respectful to those with differing opinions.”
Apple confirmed the accuracy of its statement to CNN.
This is not a First Amendment issue and technically it is not censorship at all. Apple, Facebook and YouTube have every right to decide who can and cannot use their services and if they decide that Alex Jones is not someone their want using their platforms, they do not have to host him. Having said all that, however, I really wish they had not made this decision.
To begin with, there is already a growing perception that the tech industry is heavily biased towards the political left. Many conservatives are starting to fear that such social media giants as Facebook and YouTube are beginning to use their near-monopolies to systematically marginalize and deplatform conservative voices. For Facebook, YouTube, and Apple to almost simultaneously shut down a right-wing crackpot conspiracy theorist like Alex Jones does nothing to allay such fears, particularly when there are any number of left-wing crackpot conspiracy theorists spewing just as much hatred that the tech industry apparently has no problem with hosting on their platforms. It doesn’t seem as if there is really any objective standard that has been applied. Perhaps no standard can be applied. The whole problem with banning hate speech is that there isn’t really any kind of speech that can be objectively defined as hate speech, beyond speech one happens to dislike. One person’s hate speech is another person’s speaking truth to power.
This leads to another reason I really wish they hadn’t done this. For three separate companies to decide on the same day that Alex Jones is unacceptable looks like collusion. I have no idea whether executives from Facebook, Apple and Google were working together on this, but there is no way this doesn’t look like some sort of conspiracy to shut Alex Jones up for speaking out. If it was their desire to silence Alex Jones, they have miscalculated badly. They have managed to validate all of his paranoid rantings in the minds of his audience and have made him a free speech martyr. A quick visit to Infowars shows that Alex Jones is making the most of this perception of persecution, referring to his radio show and website as banned. I wouldn’t be surprised if the traffic to Infowars hasn’t tripled in the last twenty-four hours.
The truth is that this kind of censorship, okay, not really censorship but you know what I mean, doesn’t work all that well, unless you have a totalitarian government enforcing it by not allowing any dissent at all. The sort of half-way “its technically banned but somehow still available” kind of censorship only makes the censored material more attractive because it is forbidden and the people seeking it out feel brave and rebellious. There was is a reason Banned in Boston used to be considered an endorsement by makers of risqué films and why the Streisand effect is a thing.
Although this attempt by leading tech giants to silence Alex Jones is not technically censorship because they are not government agencies, in a way it really is a kind of censorship. If the owners of the printing presses, broadcast stations or internet social media platforms collude to exclude certain political or social viewpoints, then they are practicing censorship. This is a more insidious kind of censorship than throwing a dissenter in prison where he can become a sort of martyr but of simply quietly denying the dissenter any means of disseminating his views. He may have freedom of speech, in theory, but without the means to make his speech heard, he does not have freedom of speech in practice.
This seems to be the goal of the left. They cannot pass laws against speech they dislike, at least not yet, because the First Amendment forbids it. They can mobilize private institutions, such as businesses, to censor dislike speech. They will not succeed with this rather crude attempt to silence Alex Jones. They are likely to succeed in creating a climate of intolerance throughout our society. Their goal is to fundamentally transform this country into the sort of place where you are always looking around to make sure you are not overheard, to keep your mouth shut except to say accepted platitudes, to be on the lookout for the Thought Police. We ought not to let them get away with it, even if it means standing up for the rights of people we would rather not be associated with, like Alex Jones. After all, as the saying goes, first they came for Alex Jones and Infowars…