Love him or hate him, Alex Jones of InfoWars fame is undeniably entertaining. Whether it’s his frequent outbursts, his strange theories, or just the sheer meme value of his ideas on homosexual amphibians, few can resist cracking a smile and rolling their eyes whenever he crops up on their newsfeed.
Despite the constant stream of comedy, many social media platforms have opted to censor the conspiracy theorist. Facebook and Youtube, for instance, recently deleted Jones’ content from their sites following accusations of hate speech.
Naturally, this has proven to be a controversial decision. Some view this situation to be representative of an erosion of free speech online, especially the speech of those on the right of the spectrum. Many have criticised the sites involved to be abusing their powers as moderators of what have become the playing fields for modern discourse.
Some, however, have welcomed the attempt to silence Jones. The conspiracy theories and bold claims on events such as the September 11th terror attacks or the Sandy Hook shootings touted by the InfoWars host place him, for some, as an espouser of fake news.
Whatever your opinion, one thing is certain: these attempts to silence the host have not worked. As Silkie Carlo of Big Brother Watch points out: “For the tech giants to collectively erase Infowars with little explanation […] risks the appearance of arbitrary censorship, executed in concert. Surely the very worst way to convince conspiracy theorists that there is no conspiracy is for the world’s most powerful tech companies to simultaneously silence the most popular conspiracy theorist?”
‘Millions of Infowars’, mostly right-wing viewers and listeners, will now feel a toxic combination of important and silenced.”
Not only is Carlo absolutely correct that social media companies have, effectively, stoked the flames of the conspiracy theorists’ arguments, but may have even given more moderate people grounds to sympathise with the radio host.
In fact, since removing InfoWars’ social media presence, the app has skyrocketed to upwards of 30,000 downloads per day, pushing it on Wednesday to the number trending app on the Google play store. Evidently, the attempts to silence Jones and InfoWars have backfired.
But this isn’t necessarily bad news. True, we can be immediately concerned about the newfound popularity of a radical right-winger such as Jones, but the bigger message here is that social media might not have such a hefty stranglehold on our free speech as we thought before.
While this case might show some that Jones’ conspiracies about all-powerful, Big Brother-esque corporations controlling our minds have some substance, in reality it proves exactly the opposite. Try as they might, internet giants like Facebook and Youtube couldn’t silence Jones.
Instead, they have pushed him out of the mainstream and into the niche corners of the web. Jones’ followers can still, easily, listen to his shows. We can still read his articles. And, yes, we can still make memes about gay frogs. This is despite the largest platforms in the world denying him access.
There is a very, very important lesson to be learned here; don’t try and censor people on social media. No matter how abhorrent, untrue, or downright crazy an ideology may be, it’s followers will always find somewhere to share their ideas. We can either allow them to do this on social media and within the public eye, where it can be easily criticised and ridiculed, or we can drive it underground where only it’s agreers will bother to find it.
Now that InfoWars is relegated to its own app and website, it remains to be seen whether Jones and his ideas will receive the same level of scrutiny they received on Facebook. The fear is ever-present that, in banishing Jones’ from mainstream social media, his own sites will continue to exist as an echo-chamber, outside of the public eye.
Nonetheless, let’s hope that this affair will stop social media companies from meddling in the online marketplace of ideas again. It’s nigh-impossible to silence an idea. Let’s just make sure the advocates of dangerous ideologies stay where we can see them.