Open Speech is Essential To Correcting the Bad Behavior of Alex Jones
The deplatforming of Alex Jones has me fired up. Why? I was 18 when 9–11, and I then became active in politics. I lived through the lead up to the Iraq War where I saw, and participated in, the silencing of anti-war activists. They were right, I was wrong, and a million people died.
I’ve watched the media and the 2-party political apparatus create propaganda out of false information which is then used to marginalize, criminalize, and kill American citizens. Once the citizenry was behind the “patriotic” and “right” things as a result of major media and political newspeak, the government implemented policies that range from subtle conditioning (TSA) to the destruction of the fourth amendment (Prism).
Now we are faced with the Russian “crisis” and the notion that we “must act.” Let’s be clear about the facts after two years of investigations: the Russians stole information from the DNC and gave it to Wikileaks. They were not hacked. Someone inside the DNC clicked on a link, and it provided access to their system. Their lack of cyber security protocol does not equal a crisis of democracy that must be solved through legislation. That is the extent of significant Russian interference in our elections.
“What about fake news and Russian ads?”
Recode reports that Hillary Clinton spent millions on Facebook ads and still lost, so the $100,000 in Russian ads likely had no effect. Rantic did a survey and found that Facebook statuses from friends don’t change minds, so “fake news” probably wasn’t the problem.
Cognitive Dissonance Creates Bad Legislation
America is now stuck in hell between a corrupt and incompetent President and Democrats that can’t get over that they actually lost to him by running the least likable candidate in political history. Democrats refuse to accept the lousy candidate theory, so they’ve spent two years looking for a conspiracy under every rock.
The repetition of hysteria and hyperbole (not witnessed since the 2010 Tea Party) by the Resistance and their sympathizers in the media gives us the impression that something must be done when nothing is the best course of action. Unhinged rhetoric has emboldened politicians like Sen. Mark Warner and Sen. Ron Wyden to float federal policy governing political speech on social media platforms. They are crafting legislation that will “protect” Americans from hate speech pushed by Jones and the like.
The Moving Line of Censorship
Notice that a few short months ago, we were only concerned with foreign influence, but now it is a domestic influence as well. Two weeks ago, it was “these companies have a right to do it,” and now it is “legislation is needed to fix this crisis.” The line is moving, and it won’t stop until the American people say so.
In an interview with Recode, Wyden stated: “I think it’s also worth noting that, with respect to Alex Jones, there are probably a thousand accounts out there that are as bad as Alex Jones.”
Accounts where? Will his proposal regulate only Google, Apple, Twitter, and Facebook? Or will it be blog content management systems like WordPress, podcast hosts, and credit card processors too? What is the definition of social media?
Secondly, what does Sen. Wyden consider “bad”? Why does any Senator get to determine what good or bad political speech may be? They don’t. The First Amendment was written to tell government employees that they do not have the right to limit speech. There are consequences to speech, and I support any company’s right to disassociate from Jones. As a consumer, I then have the right to speak out or quit their service when they stop sharing my values. In this instance, the dominant companies of Silicon Valley should have told the mobs of media members and politicians to grow up.
Wyden says that these companies need to reflect community values and common decency. One can only imagine that he wants to be the one defining values and decency. I hold the value that words are not violence. If Alex Jones said terrible things but didn’t physically harm anyone, commit fraud, or steal information, then he should be allowed to say what he wants. I am guessing my absolutist approach to free speech isn’t a value he would like.
After Trump won in 2016, I began watching Jones to see what he says considering his newfound influence. Having no awareness of him, I had thought him dangerous. He’s really just a vitamin salesman mixed with P.T. Barnum featuring lousy news analysis. When you investigate what he’s saying, he usually has misconstrued facts to fit a narrative that benefits him. If that is grounds for deplatforming, then the Weekly Standard and ThinkProgress ought to be trembling in their boots.
Sandy Hook is often the reason cited as to why Alex Jones is not allowed in polite company. I have no idea what Jones actually said, and I would bet most people condemning Jones don’t either. We immediately sympathize with victims of unspeakable tragedies whenever criticisms of events are brought up. Politicians, partisan advocates, and headline-hungry media are always willing to exploit this empathetic reaction for their own purposes. The victims of 9–11 were used repeatedly to pass legislation and win elections. It was so overused that it became an anti-Rudy Guiliani meme in the 2008 Presidential race.
I am not trying to dismiss the pain of these families. It was such a traumatic event that it still stands as one of our darkest days as a nation. Obama says it was his worst day as President. It is bananas to claim that it didn’t happen when we watched it unfold before our eyes. It is a shame if Jones has caused these families further grief, but being the subject of a news story usually brings them extra pain. If Jones defamed them, then there are existing legal remedies at their disposal. Creating mechanisms to control speech before it happens is wholly inappropriate.
We need a reality check. A Texas talk show host that is more meme and performance artist than political influencer poses no significant risk to the Republic. The most significant threat to our democracy are laws that seek to limit our ability to reason to the best conclusions for our society. That includes terrible ideas, hurtful words, and questioning the obvious. People think these things, and ending the ability to discuss them means those damaging thoughts never change the behaviors that hurt our culture. Openness and vulnerability always lead to better people and stronger societies.
In 2003, I was fighting to silence the left from saying unpopular things. Now I am the one trying to defend my freedom of speech as the left tries to keep unpopular opinions suppressed. In reality, neither of us should be the force of government or digital lynch mobs to silence anyone, and we both ought to be suspicious of the powerful in media, corporations, or the government telling us who is not worthy of speech.