The Info War
When you want to exercise the full range of censorship and control, you probably aren’t going to start with someone who has tremendous social capital or credibility. For this reason, YouTube, Spotify, Apple, and Pinterest for some reason, chose to collude and ban on the same day conspiracist and InfoWarrior-In-Chief Alex Jones. Realizing that most of us aren’t going to leap to the defense of someone who accuses the parents of dead children of being “crisis actors”, there are few better candidates. But these aren’t the grounds on which YouTube and their Silicon Valley co-conspirators exiled Jones from the public square.
Instead, they cast him out on the vague grounds of “hate-speech.” Naturally, “hate-speech” can come in any number of forms, none of which can be found with a shared definition. Libel and slander, on the other hand, do have pretty well-established and narrow, legal boundaries. Which obviously isn’t to say that these platforms have any legal-obligation one way or the other. Far too many rush to eject from their mouths, “Private companies can do whatever they want.” This happens to be a total non-observation. Free speech isn't what’s being violated by their paternalistic censorship, true, but effective speech is, because in the 21st century they've effectively monopolized where effective speech can exist--proven by their joint action here. Unlike a brand of beer or deodorant, you don’t have the luxury of 10 or 15 competing options. For video streaming, the only real player in the game truly is YouTube. Jones has and will retain his own platform, but accessing new audiences and maintaining his current level of support becomes a much more daunting hurdle, which is what makes this precedent so alarming.
Of course, none of this is to say that Jones' is the kind of speech we’d like to see. But that anyone concerned with freedom of information should have more trust in the public to determine for themselves the quality of someone’s opinions than to place their trust in transparently ideological code monkeys, who’ll “liberate” us of that responsibility. Which is why using the already-existent, narrow, and universally agreed upon definitions of libel and slander probably isn’t to these technocrats’ liking. It’s considerably more difficult to expand that definition to encompass the whole range of controversial opinions, almost universally on the right in their view.
According to the received wisdom of what hate-speech is, especially among the same radically gripped forces at Google who brought us the firing of James Damore, liberal secularists like Sam Harris could easily be banned for criticizing a religion or mainstream conservatives like Ben Shapiro could be cast out for saying that there are only two genders. To demonstrate how realistic this scenario is, Twitter, which is the sole major platform to not ban Jones, was forced to ban Gavin McInnes. They apparently chose to take this action because the reason Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey cited to not ban Jones wasn’t enough for the critics of free speech: Jones hadn’t violated their rules. Quickly, left wing activists scoured the website for potential violations. In order to offer this pack a scalp, they offered up Gavin McInnes. Their allies in the media responded by churning out one misleading headline after another to paint the decision in a flattering light. The implication behind linking Gavin’s “Proud Boys” and Unite the Right is to suggest that they were apart of that event. Once more, this is an unbelievably dishonest claim. The Proud Boys are comprised of multiracial, mainstream conservatives and Trump supporters. Not only do The Proud Boys and Gavin McInnes have no association with the event itself, but Gavin himself has repeatedly repudiated the Alt-Right. If this were the real reason for Gavin’s ban, they’d have banned Richard Spencer first--the chief architect of the Alt-Right and organizer of its rallies. Yet, he remains.
The same angry mobs behind the banning of Jones, in such a predictable manner, set themselves on Gavin. Everyone should be able to see how this flows from the Tech Monopolists’ rationale for banning Jones initially: Apple said it “does not tolerate hate speech.” Facebook accused Mr. Jones of violating policies against “glorifying violence” or using “dehumanizing language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims and immigrants.” YouTube accused Mr. Jones of violating policies against “hate speech and harassment.” In place of practical definitions, our allegedly benevolent tech overlords have chosen to set the precedent that can and will lead to an ever-narrowing range of acceptable thought.
To see how this extremist thinking can take shape, look no further than the once-respected Southern Poverty Law center. In its unhinged pursuit of all groups hateful, it’s labeled a host of innocuous religious organizations and critics of Islam as “hate groups.” Glancing over their laundry list of hate groups, you would expect the usual suspects of the KKK, Neo-Nazis, and perhaps even the black panthers, who are there. What you don’t bargain for is the likes of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a group of ordinary Christians, or reports on Male Supremacy which cites Feminist author Christina Hoff Sommers (Section “History”, paragraph 8) as “allies” of that supremacy who give it a “respectable face.” Their series of casual lies came to an expensive head when the SPLC had to deal out a $3.3 million fine to Islam reformer Maajid Nawaz, who they labeled an “anti-Muslim extremist.”
Libelous claims like these undoubtedly influence the censor-happy fiends at Google, Apple, Facebook, and Twitter. They look to institutions like these as legitimate guides for who should be treated as hateful. It would be foolish to think that they’re going to harness their powers any more responsibly than the SPLC does -- recklessly and maliciously.
Which brings us to the fact that Jones wasn’t banned for the same reasons reasonable people find him off-putting. Nor was Gavin banned for a bigoted association with Unite the Right, nor the alt-right in general. Jones was chosen because he’s uniquely and deservedly unsympathetic, but he was banned for many of his other opinions, shared by a whole spectrum of non-conspiracists or slanderers. The kinds of opinions Gavin and millions of other, conventional libertarians and conservatives share and express on these platforms on gender, race, and class.
No longer is this fear restricted to a hypothetical future. The beginning of its realization has already risen to the fold. Conservative educational YouTube channel PragerU has seen a nearly 100% plummet in Facebook engagement as well as the inexplicable removal of many of their videos. In keeping with the typical social media script whenever found out in waging censorship, Facebook feigned ignorance, telling the BBC "The videos in question were mistakenly removed, While we continue to research what caused this error, we have restored the content because it does not break our community standards and apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused."
PragerU’s response seems to be a more accurate account of what happened. Is it not in the least bit strange that these censorious “mistakes” only ever seem to happen to conservative channels and pages? And when they are caught out, this is all the explanation that they can muster. A much more likely scenario is that their human censors are deciding to be a thorn in the side of conservative alternative media and know there won’t be repercussions for doing so. Consequences will never be met out to the code monkeys who repeatedly do this, and so they have no reason to stop--and now they will feel justified in doing so now that their Big Tech superiors have opened the floodgates of censorship. Emboldened by the amorphous category of “hate speech,” they will press forward with even more confirmation of their righteousness.
An unexpected consequence for these tech aristocrats is that Americans are generally very skeptical of attempts to restrict the flow of information. Naturally, they don’t quite know this themselves, having emerged from institutions like Universities and being in social circles that are hostile to speech. The bubble they inhabit deludes them into believing that every good person prizes emotional security over freedom of speech, just like they do. But the very reason the internet has become the powerhouse it has is because of that devotion to free speech. In reaction, many more might flock to Jones than otherwise ever would, making him a martyr. Jack Dorsey rightly points this out as part of his reason he didn’t ban Jones like all of the other tech conglomerates.
Sunlight truly is the best disinfectant, and to most Jones had become a meme--taken seriously by no one serious. But if anyone can make him be taken seriously, it’s those who seem to prove his point by literally conspiring to take him down.
As perhaps the final nail in the coffin for Jones’ operation, the FCC has struck down his pirate radio station in Austin. The FCC tells us that the station has been running an unlicensed, and therefore illegal, operation for years, and that it’s only been taken down after refusing a desist order. True though that may be, it doesn’t make the FCC’s licensing laws any less draconian. It also comes at an eyebrow raisingly coincidental time. How could a reasonable observer not see this without uncomfortable images of government-monopolistic tech collusion springing to mind?
This goes doubly for non-reasonable observers, like Jones’ audience, who will religiously rush to that conclusion. As with most things, the solution to undesirable cultural influences can almost never be found in less information--whether that comes in the form of government or trust-like corporate censorship. Few know this better than Thomas Jefferson, whose cautionary letter to a Virginia state senator applies even more today than it did in 1791: I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than those attending too small a degree of it.