Alex Jones: Is His Banishment an Issue of Free Speech?

Alex Jones, Apple, Facebook, Spotify, YouTube, free speech, social media, censorship, violating terms of service, hate speech
Original image by Michael Zimmermann [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons
No, Alex Jones’ banishment from a host of platforms is not about free speech, but it has started on interesting conversation among progressives.


What Happened to Alex Jones?

On Monday, August 6, 2018, Apple, Facebook, Spotify, and YouTube acted to bar Alex Jones and his InfoWars content from their platforms. Apple acted first by removing five of six InfoWars shows from iTunes and Apple Podcasts.1 Facebook and YouTube quickly followed suit, with FB removing a few of Jones’ pages around 3 am in the morning.2 Spotify, which had already removed a few select episodes of the Alex Jones Show (a podcast), decided to remove the whole catalog.

Jones’s show had already been banned from Stitcher. Also, three of the other platforms had already carried out punitive action on Jones before Monday. Specifically:

  • In July, Jones was suspended by YouTube for 90 days.
  • Jones was recently suspended by Facebook for 30 days.
  • Spotify had already removed four tracks from InfoWars.

As of today, there are only a few venues where Jones still has a platform. He is still allowed on Amazon, Twitter, and Periscope. Also, the InfoWars app was still available at the Apple Store. And of course, Jones still has his InfoWars websites, but he won’t be able to show most of his videos there.


Why Was This Done?

While spokespersons from Apply and Spotify indicated that Jones was being barred from their platforms over hate speech, Jones was banned from Facebook and YouTube for hate speech, harassment, and violating their terms of service. During a press conference, a Facebook spokesperson said those pages were removed for glorifying violence and using dehumanizing language directed at immigrants, Muslims, and transgendered people. Despite his suspension on YouTube, for these violations, he circumvented the rules on that platform by appearing in videos on other people’s channels. He also used other people’s accounts on Facebook to post first-account videos and messages.


How Will This Affect Jones?

Although Twitter and Periscope continued to host Jones, his ability to reach his large audience was greatly diminished. The greatest hit Jones took was from YouTube, where he had over 2.5 million subscribers and over 1 billion lifetime views. Since YouTube took down all of his videos hosted on that website, most of the videos displayed on his InfoWars website were gone.

According to Buzzfeed News, Apple’s decision was “one of the largest enforcement actions intended to curb conspiratorial news content by a technology company to date.” Apple Podcasts is a large source of traffic for the shows and as of 2018, it accounted for over 50 billion downloads and streams.


What Do Progressives Have to Say About This?

As you could expect, there is a partisan slant to this entire discussion. There are many self-described conservatives who are decrying the action by saying that it is a violation of free speech. Some progressives have said the same thing, but this camp is quite evenly split.

I am linking a couple of videos that were made shortly after the news was announced:

Alex Jones PERMANENTLY PULLED From Various Platforms by Secular Talk (15 minutes, 35 seconds)

Alex Jones Gets Pulled From YouTube by The Rational National (29 minutes, 32 seconds)

As you can see, these two have different takes on this topic.

You can see how heated the discussion got on Twitter:


Where Do I Fall in This Discussion?

I haven’t really jumped into this discussion beyond this blog posts and a few messages on Discord, but I will tell you that I have no love lost for Alex Jones. I’m not shedding any tears, but I do think this situation raises an interesting question.

Before reading into the story, I leaned more toward what Kyle Kulinski (the guy in the first video) and Mike Figueredo because of free speech. Now, I lean more toward people like David Doel and Benjamin Dixon.

Like I said at the top, this isn’t really about free speech. Although the platforms were under pressure, they had clear reasons to ban Jones and they are ultimately private companies. The First Amendment only applies to protecting speech from U.S. government censorship. There are of course considerations for libel, slander, treason, and threatening speech.

Also, when you look at the effect Alex Jones has had on his viewers, it’s hard to argue against his banishment. Jones may be playing a character (which is what his lawyers have been saying since his ugly custody battle began), but people believe him. The same people who buy his products (which John Oliver thoroughly discussed, below) take whatever he says — in favor of Trump, against Obama, against, Hillary Clinton and against lefties — at face value.

In particular, Jones shoulders some responsibility for pushing the Pizzagate conspiracy theory and for what he said about Brian Stelter. Jones has made dehumanizing comments about people and the Pizzagate controversy was so bad, he had to disavow it.

That said, I acknowledge the worries people like Kulinski and Figueredo have.

My Concerns

First of all, I am concerned about the power platforms like Facebook and YouTube have. Honestly, something must be said about the amount size of these platforms. In a way, they control so much traffic on the web that it feels that they are limiting speech, especially when they have few competitors. This needs to be watched around the world.

Secondly, these platforms are ill-equipped to deal with fake news and what they deem “fake news” will often be subjective.

Third, although I think Alex Jones’ dismissal is justified, it could be used as a pretext to ban other people on looser grounds. For example, if someone is deemed to be an “Alex Jones-like” character, that is shorthand for discrediting that person and getting them de-platformed.

Ultimately, I know that YT and FB will get around to going after people on the left. They already do, especially when you look at that the Ad-pocalypse. People like Jimmy Dore, Kulinski, Figueredo, David Pakman, and Doel have lost a considerable amount of ad revenue due to YouTube’s algorithms. Jamarl Thomas, the host of the Progressive Soapbox, has lost all ad revenue on his videos. Facebook might punish lefties for going against establishment narrative.

Want proof?

BDS, Anyone?

The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement is a form of protest against Israel based on is policies and treatment of Palestinians. In 2017, some members of Congress were considering a bill to legally punish businesses and individuals who took part in the BDS movement or expressed support for it. Imagine if the newer efforts to clamp down on hate speech on social media platforms included targeting people who supported the BDS movement — who are more likely than not lefties. They are already categorized as “anti-Semitic,” but the government would likely make it official and apply pressure to tech sites.

Jimmy Dore, the Conspiracy Theorist?

In an apparent power move, CNN (Money) decided to call out certain YouTubers on whose channels certain ads appeared. While there was a genuine concern about certain ads appearing on InfoWars’ channel and Brian Ruhe’s channel, the writers of this piece decided to also take a quick snipe at The Jimmy Dore Show, namely because of his coverage of the war in Syria. Additionally, CNN reached out to various advertisers to tell them which channels their ads appeared on.

That was a gross hit piece because it showed that CNN, a mainstream news outlet, was picking on smaller content creators. CNN already has a presence on YouTube, but it was clearly punching left and trying to get Dore and YouTubers like him to lose more video revenue.

Targeting Anoa Changa

In a piece for NPR affiliate WABE, Johnny Kauffman sought to discredit Anoa Changa, a progressive activist, a managing editor of Progressive Army, and a YouTube creator. Anoa Changa has her own YouTube Channel, The Way with Anoa. She also promotes progressive candidates across the United States, but she regularly appears on two Sputnik shows, By Any Means Necessary and Loud & Clear, which that is how Kauffman frames the entire article.

While Kauffman seemed to understand what Changa’s message was and her reasoning for appearing on the Sputnik shows, he took pains to paint her appearances on those shows as aiding Russia and thus undermining her credibility. He pointed out how Russian outlets like Sputnik and RT (formally Russia Today) were forced to register as foreign agents in 2018 and how some Democratic (one mentioned in this article) candidates are uncomfortable with that connection.

Kauffman wanted to “caution” people that Russia only seeks to undermine the United States by causing turmoil and that by airing “controversial” views, like a position against police brutality, on Russian outlets, that Americans are making the United States weaker.

It reminds me of the type of stuff Julia Ioffe pulled with one of her articles. What she did is nothing new, because black activists in the 1960s were likened to useful idiots for Soviets. But it says a lot that she has no problem having a drink with someone like Richard Spencer.


Conclusion

In the end, I don’t feel bad about Alex Jones’ dismissal from various platforms. However, this is a situation that needs to be closely watched. Keep a lookout for what these tech companies and social media platforms do next because a lot of it won’t be good for people whose only “sin” is bucking establishment narratives. That may be a violation of free speech, especially if the government is involved.


Footnotes

  1. Apple had no financial relationship with Jones. Apple Podcasts is just a service that anyone with an iPhone can access and it includes links to podcasts that are held on different servers around the world. The platform only links users to podcasts hosted on other servers and it is a large source of traffic for those podcasts.
  2. Apple, the first to act, removed five of InfoWars’ six podcasts, including War Room and the Alex Jones Show, from iTunes and Apple Podcasts. The only InfoWars show that remained on the platforms was Real News with David Knight. Facebook removed for pages connected to Alex Jones: the Alex Jones Channel Page, the Alex Jones Page, the InfoWars Nightly News Page, and the InfoWars Page.

 

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