Progressives: Don’t Turn on Each Other Because of Alex Jones (Part 2)

progressives, social media, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, online censorship, government involvement, free-speech issue
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey recently talked to NBC News’ Lester Holt about Twitter’s decision to put Alex Jones in a week-long timeout. Twitter’s movements in this arena will have long-term implications, and most of them will be bad for progressives.

In Part 1 of this series, I talked about the fallout from Alex Jones’ dismissal from certain platforms and the effect it has had on progressives. In particular, a fight has been raging about the concept of free speech and whether or not there are limits to it. As a result, a number of progressives have turned on each other, at least in this arena. As the title of these posts suggests, I have a problem with that because progressives need to stick together.

I am also troubled by the way people are going about this argument. While both sides in this debate have valid points, one side has stronger ones, but even people on that side have made a series of argumentative missteps. In sniping at each other, progressives in this fight have subverted their own arguments to a degree.

Now, one is certain: Alex Jones’ banishment is the start of a widescale sweep and things will get worse before they get better. That said, I would like to revisit my thoughts on his banishment and talk about the effect it can have on many others.


What’s Happened Since Jones’ Banishment?

Since I last touched on this topic, a lot has happened on various social media platforms, namely Facebook and Twitter.

Of course, Jones went back on his show and seemingly told his followed to have their guns at the ready.

Jones was ultimately put in a Twitter time-out for that video.

While Kyle Kulinski brushed that off because he said Jones used weasel words to give himself an out, for many people, Jones seemingly justified his own banishment from certain platforms. However, there are far-reaching implications.

Now, Jones wasn’t the only one targeted this month, of course. A number of right-wingers have been targeted, too. However, it seems that there were even more banhammers dropped on left-leaning users and websites. Consider:

Candace Owens Was Temporarily Suspended

On Sunday, August 5, 2018, Candace Owens was temporarily suspended by Twitter for a pair of tweets she made. In those tweets, Owens, the communications director for the conservative group Turning Points USA, quoted tweets made years ago by New York Times editorial board member Sarah Jeong.1 Jeong’s tweets contained racist statements made about white people, and Owens replaced mentions of white people with Jewish and black people. Owens made it clear that she was making a point about Jeong’s tweets but was suspended anyway.

The matter was quickly cleared up after there was a backlash. Owens received an apology and Twitter called her suspension an error.

This wasn’t the first time Owens received an apology from Twitter. Earlier this year, Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO, directly apologized to her on the platform after she was called “far-right.”

The Proud Boys Was Targeted

On Friday, August 10, 2018, numerous Twitter accounts connected to the ProudBoys were suspended ahead of the United the Right 2 rally that was being held in Washington, D.C. Twitter not only suspended the original @ProudBoys account but the account of its founder, Gavin McInnes, as well as regional affiliate accounts.

  • @ProudBoysOhio
  • @ProudBoysCA
  • @Proud_Boys_IL
  • @ProudBoysVT
  • @ProudBoysNH
  • @ProudBoysOR
  • @ProudBoysNeb
  • @ProudBoys1776
  • @proudboysgirls
  • @proudboysunite
  • @ProudBoysCanada
  • @ProudBoysFOAK
  • @FOAKUSA

Twitter said it made the move because the group violated the website’s policy against violent extremist groups. ProudBoys has been present at various alt-right and white supremacist rallies since the group was founded in 2016, which include 2017’s first United the Right rally. On August 4, 2018, the group was seen at a rally in Portland, OR that turned violent after the police preemptively went after counter-protesters.

According to at least one person there, some Proud Boys members attacked counter-protesters while leaving the scene.

The Proud Boys were reportedly also involved in another violate rally in Portland on June 30. If this is true, I would label them a violent group.

H3H3’s Live Stream Was Temporary Shut Down by YouTube

On the same day of the Proud Boys crackdown, H3H3 Productions suffered a setback. One of their live streams was shut down the minute Ethan Klein and crew began talking about Alex Jones.

The stream was put back up and the YouTubers received an apology.

TheAmazingAtheist Was Temporarily Suspended, Too

On Saturday, August 11, 2018, TheAmazingAtheist (also known as TJ Kirk) was banned for making tweets deemed deeply racist. TJ, who is white, made posts aimed at white people. However, those who follow him know that he is a deeply satirical person and those tweets were mocking the Sarah Jeong situation.

The same day he was banned, TheAmazingAtheist used his Deep Fat Fried Twitter account to appeal TJ’s Twitter Ban.

Kyle Kulinski Retweeted Deep Fat Fried’s Tweet to show his followers the effects of the social media crackdown.

On Tuesday, August 14, 2018, TheAmazingAtheist announced that his Twitter account had been restored and he thanked those who advocated for him during his timeout.

Robin Williams’ Account Was Suspended

It has been four years (can you believe it?) since Robin Williams died, and Twitter just now decided to suspend his account. What brought this on? It this is a related to an algorithm, there’s a serious flaw in that algorithm. Since Williams died, that account should have been archived. That’s what Twitter has done for posthumous accounts and for the Obamas since they left the White House.

TeleSUR Was Targeted

On August 14, 2018, teleSUR English’s Facebook page was taken down for the second time, without a clear explanation. The first time the page was taken down was in January 2018, which happened without no explanation whatsoever. When asked why the page was taken down this time, the team received a message from Facebook that they had violated the platform’s terms of service, but no clear violation was outlined. As the teleSUR team suspected, their page was likely targeted because they promote stories that run counter to the mainstream narrative.

The page was reinstated two days later after a backlash, but the administrators of the page weren’t given a contradictory explanation. They were told that an error had occurred, but someone else who inquired about it was told that the page was being protected form suspicious activity.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of teleSUR’s troubles, because now, Empire Files is being targeted. This isn’t directly related to social media, but series, which is partly funded by teleSUR and hosted by Abby Martin, has been attacked by the U.S. government for months. The main reason Empire Files is being attacked is because of its coverage of Venezuela, a country that is in the crosshairs of people calling for regime change.

VenezuelaAnalysis’s FB Page Was Temporarily Taken Down

Greg Wilpert, whose runs Facebook Page for VenezuelaAnalysis.com, talked about how the page was temporarily taken down while talking with The Real News’ Aaron Maté on August 11. Wilpert said that the page was taken down that same morning and without explanation. The only recourse he had was the use and anonymous appeal button, but he received no response from Facebook. His page was restored hours later, however.

One of PBS Digital Studios’ Facebook Posts Was Taken Down

A PBS Digital Studios post wasn’t boosted on Facebook because it was deemed “too political.” The content in question? I let Katharine Hayhoe’s tweet speak for itself.

Caitlin Johnstone Was Banned from Twitter, Then Reinstated

Caitlin Johnstone is an independent journalist/commentator and artist who has gotten a lot of flack since 2017. She once wrote a post in which she suggested that progressives should work with right-wingers in order to bring down the corporate press and improve journalism, but she made the mistake of throwing out Mike Cernovich’s name. She also made waves when she made a harsh post about John McCain following the news that he had a brain Tumor. This year, she continued her attack on John McCain and she found herself in hot water because of it.

Johnstone was suspended from Twitter, but after some people defended her right to free speech, she was quickly reinstated. Now, I wouldn’t go as far as she does to speak out against John McCain, but she never called for people to kill him and it’s perfectly fair to bring up his domestic and foreign policy record. Neither are good from where I stand.

Facebook Took Down 652 Pages, Accounts, and Groups It Labelled ‘Suspicious’

On Tuesday, August 21, CNN Money published a report about Facebook’s action to take down 652 pages, accounts, and groups, which were said to be linked to Russia and Iran as part of misinformation campaigns. Of all those pages, et al: 254 Facebook pages and 116 Instagram accounts were said to be linked to Iran.

In a related note, Twitter shut down 284 accounts. Twitter said that most of those accounts were linked to Iran and they were involved in “coordinated manipulation.”


What I Think About This Situation Now

Considering everything I mentioned above, I need to rethink my reaction to the prospect of Jones being deplatformed. At first, I didn’t know what to think about the situation. I was honestly ambivalent because of what was coming next, but after communicating with others, I felt that his banishment was justified.

I felt that Jones’s banishment was justified on at least two platforms because he did violate terms of service on Facebook and YouTube by circumventing their rules. The websites and services that explained why they removed him from their platforms also said that he violated their rules on hate speech.

I also took Jones’ abuse towards Sandy Hook survivors into account, because he provided their addresses to the public and they were harassed as a result. Now, there is a story about him telling his staff to get rid of evidence of his harassment.

Additionally, I believed that Jones’ speech was harmful because he misinformed his followers, no matter how ridiculous his speech was. However, it turns out that Jones wasn’t pushed out because of misinformation.

Now, after listening closely to other opinions, I thought more about the “unintended” consequences of the situation. I am also ambivalent about the other incidents involving right-wingers. While I feel that groups like the Proud Boys are scum, I am leery of the decision to banish them.

Why do I feel that way? Well, one question we need to ask ourselves is, “How is everything else connected to Alex Jones?” Another question we need to ask ourselves is, “How is this a free-speech issue?”

How All of This Is Connected

On one hand, there is no real connection between Jones’ situation and sweep of left-leaning accounts and pages. Lefties are always being targeted, so that could have happened whether Jones was suspended from various platforms or not.

On the other hand, Jones’ suspension looms over this entire discussion.

  • For one thing, it was the precursor to things to come. This is something that Jimmy Dore and others were warning about, albeit inarticulately at times. When Jones was caught up in internet censorship, most lefties needed to brace themselves for the worst. On a related note …
  • Jones’ suspension will be used as a pretext. Social media platforms, news outlets, and people who work in the government will use Jones as an example to go after other people who they’ll say are similar. They’ve already done this to Dore and they will label other lefties as “conspiracy theorists.”
  • Jones’ situation is a distraction. It is overshadowing the plight of smaller accounts and that likely by design. While people were talking about him and focusing on him, they wouldn’t be paying attention to what was happening to real news sources and people with smaller platforms. However, this will not work for people who are paying attention.
  • Jones’ suspension also serves as a cover. The same is true about the Proud Boys’ suspension. When questioned about why these social media platforms are seemingly going after lefties, the platforms can just point to the suspensions they’ve handed out to conservatives to have the appearance of evenhandedness.

That last part is extremely useful for The Powers That Be because it’s better for them to have people separated along partisan lines.

How This Is a Free-Speech Issue

Two weeks ago, I said that Alex Jones’ suspension wasn’t a free-speech issue, but recent events have proven me wrong. This is a free-speech issue because of who’s involved.

In the two weeks since this Jones situation unfolded, I learned more about Facebook’s push to go after “fake news” and how the U.S. government was involved. Since the Russia probe began, social media platforms have come under increased government scrutiny. In response, numerous accounts on those platforms were taken down, with the explanation for most of them being that they were somehow connected to the Kremlin.

Twitter was among the platforms involved in the purge, as was Tumblr and Facebook. YouTube had already started its own purging without being prompted, but the Adpocalypse and its new linking system were spurred by outside pressure.

Facebook needs to be singled out because of its partnership with the Atlantic Council, a militaristic think tank that has an anti-Russia stance. Specifically, Facebook is participating in the Digital Forensics Lab, which involves Gulf states, the European Union, and the Atlantic Council, which NATO’s unofficial organization.

In addition, Facebook worked with the U.S. government to take down those 652 pages. The same is true about Twitter’s crackdown.

The bottom line: This is governmental involvement in social media and online speech. Thus, this is a free speech issue.


What’s at Stake

Since the government is involved in online censorship, the situation is already dire. Therefore, in order to fairly assess the situation, we must look at the long-term effects of governmental involvement in this sector. This isn’t a question of if, but when, how, and whom.

The Long-Term Effects on Conservatives

As you can see, conservatives will be caught up in the dragnet, but the effect will not be as severe as it will be for liberals, progressives, and other leftists. Every now and then, someone like Richard Spencer will have their Facebook pages taken down or their Twitter accounts unverified or suspended, but that’s nothing compared to what will happen to someone like Caitlin Johnstone or any lefty who goes against a centrist narrative.

It’s very telling that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has trouble addressing Holocaust deniers (yet admitted that he was loath to shut them down) while his company is eager to shut down pro-Palestinian pages or shut down smaller or independent news pages that offer different perspectives on Venezuela. The message I get is that a little bit of neo-Nazism is accepted by the establishment while any message that detracts from regime-change or is critical of Israel is “unacceptable.” A lot of alt-righters straddle that line, so more of them will get away with their nonsense.2

The Long-Term Effect on Left-Leaning Commentators

Lefties with smaller platforms will always be targeted, with little fanfare, but the people most vulnerable are smaller and independent news outlets and commentators and journalists like Abby Martin and Jimmy Dore. Websites like Alternet and Truthdig have already been affected by Google’s algorithms, making their websites less visible in searches and decreasing their monthly traffic. As I said so above, teleSUR is now in the crosshairs.

Lefty YouTube channels are being targeted, too. That explains why Dore’s mad; he’s already been targeted, had his YouTube videos demonetized, and labeled a conspiracy theorist. It’s only a matter of time before he experiences trouble on Twitter — if he hasn’t already.

Why is this going on? I’ll let this excerpt from CNN speak for itself:

Some of the pages were identified by Facebook after a tip from cybersecurity firm FireEye.

“This influence operation linked to Iran aims to promote political narratives in line with Iranian interests, including anti-Saudi, anti-Israeli, and pro-Palestinian themes,” FireEye analyst Lee Foster said. “The activity we have uncovered is significant and demonstrates that actors beyond Russia continue to engage in online, social media-driven influence operations as a means of shaping political discourse.”

FireEye noted that the Iran-linked activity it uncovered “does not appear to have been designed as a dedicated attempt to influence the 2018 US midterm elections.”

“This does not preclude such attempts being made, however, and the recent reorientation of some social media accounts to adopting left-leaning identities may indicate an opportunistic shift toward a more elaborate effort to influence US domestic political discourse,” it added.

Lefties, by their very nature, question authority and challenge the status quo. Right-wingers do not, even when they think they are. Often, the things they do help the status quo.

The Long-Term Effect on Everyday Users

Again, everyday users will be directly affected every now and then. On Twitter, they might suffer because some of their content is hidden. On Facebook, they might run a page that is capped at a certain number of followers. On YouTube, they will have less opportunity to make money off ads because of the newer rules that favor larger, “non-controversial” creators.

Yet, the worst effect of online censorship will be losing the people they follow. If “controversial” individuals and news outlets are shut down, people will be less informed and have fewer opportunities to interact with each other. Our speech will be effectively restricted; that also means it will be harder to organize meaningful protests and know about better political candidates.

Who does this help? It doesn’t help most people but a select few.

  • It helps the powerful.
  • It helps incumbents.
  • It helps the über-wealthy.
  • It helps the corrupt.
  • It helps warmongers.

It doesn’t help people who are trying to:

  • Make a name for themselves.
  • Grow their own business.
  • Build a following (for an insurgent political campaign).
  • Inform people.
  • Get informed.

This is why we must fight corporate censorship with everything we have. And this is the type of conversation progressives need to have with each other.


Until Next Time

As you can see, this isn’t just about Alex Jones. It’s bigger than him.

In my next post, I will talk about moving past the Alex Jones trap. He is a nonstarter in this discussion and we need to set him aside in order to get to the heart of the matter.


Footnotes

1. Sarah Jeong was recently hired by the New York Times. Shortly afterward, someone dug up tweets she made in 2014 in which it appeared she was disparaging white people. Jeong explained that she was responding to trolls with a trollish remarks and the Times accepted her apology.

2. In an interview with Recode’s Kara Swisher, Mark Zuckerberg made the statement that he didn’t want to alienate Holocaust deniers. He also said that he wouldn’t shut down a page like InfoWars. If he went back on that second part …

Have any thoughts on the subject? Time’s yours.

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