Free speech is often touted as being under attack. From the rise of political correctness to the labelling of the media as the ‘enemy of the people’ by President Trump, the right to free speech and freedom of the press is a matter that seems to never stray far from public concern.
This past Monday, YouTube, Facebook and Apple announced they were taking steps to remove content from conspiracy theorist and fake news pusher Alex Jones and his media company InfoWars from their platforms.
Alex Jones has made a name for himself by promoting claims that are ubiquitous in their absurdity. From publicising a supposedly imminent white genocide to claiming the existence of ‘weather weapons’, Jones has found a way of finding fame that exists through the means of fear and deep mistrust.
One of the most heinous claims made by Jones is that the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that took the lives of twenty children and six adults, was faked. He has called the parents of the dead children ‘crisis actors’ and liars.
In April, a defamation lawsuit was brought against Jones by the parents of two children who died in the shooting, stating that Jones’ repeated fabrications have led to death threats against them and their having to move several times due to harassment and fears over safety.
In an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the parents of killed 6-year-old Noah Pozner penned, ‘Our families are in danger as a direct result of the hundreds of thousands of people who see and believe the lies and hate speech, which you have decided should be protected.’
This statement identifies a crucial issue that has been further clarified by the actions that Facebook, YouTube and Apple have taken. Up to now, Jones has had these major platforms laid at his feet for his taking and for his mistreatment. He has been able to spread his dangerous, abhorrent and nonsensical claims for the world to listen to and for them infiltrate into people’s minds.
The companies have all claimed violations of some sort as the reasoning behind their actions against Jones and InfoWars, either of previous suspensions and rulings or of policy against hate speech. The actions taken have riled up debate over censorship and free speech and questions over why now, seeing as Jones has been espousing similar claims for years.
To the question of why now, the jury is still out. It could be an overdue response to the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the crackdown on fake news, but is certainly a response to public pressure and likely a move of self-interest.
Companies like Facebook and YouTube have become so unexpectedly massive that claims of openness and lack of regulation are no longer sustainable when their platforms have become so politicised. Their actions do not mean the end of Alex Jones. He is still able to stream through his website and his Twitter is still up and running.
However, the actions taken by these major tech companies shows that there needs to be a taking of responsibility of what they will allow on their platforms. They have the choice of what voices they give power and it is about time they realise that by allowing Jones to continue, they are giving permission for others like him to grow.
These actions can be viewed as a slippery slope towards increased censorship and fringes on free speech – but at what cost? Freedom of speech is essential to any democracy but we should not be bending the notion of free speech to accommodate those like Jones. Individuals like Jones take advantage of the privileges and freedoms we are afforded to and do nothing but damage society that, with their help, will only further weaken and splinter.