By now it is widely known that Alex Jones has been mostly shut down on Facebook, YouTube, Apple, and Spotify. What is being less discussed is the rest of the story.
Jones himself has called the moves “censorship” and now declares there is a “war to destroy Alex Jones.” His response is perfect ad-copy for his audience. They probably truly believe he was a real threat to “the global elite” who are now destroying him.
More mainstream conservative authors have also already well noted the problem with the vague standard upon which these bans have been carried out. David French has noted the “almost infinite malleability of the ‘hate speech’ label.” It would be preferable, he argues, for the social media giants to abide by a more objective standard such as the libel and slander laws already in place.
Some liberals, too, by the way, are disagreeing with the censorship inherent in the moves.
But there is a lot more going on here. Sorry to disappoint any Jones fans, but the facts are too obvious in this case. Jones is not just a standard conspiracy nut (of the tolerable tinfoil variety), he’s gotten way too big a head, and he has been very reckless.
Those who care to delve just a little below the surface stories on social media or even most of the mainstream media—not to mention Jones’s own gratuitous propaganda—will find out his speech is beyond mere conspiracy theory or even alt-right opinion. It’s not even run-of-the-mill racism or anti-homosexual speech. It’s reckless bombast that has led to the relentless hounding and harassment of private individuals he has called out by name. It’s also reckless speech that can actually endanger others, like this:
On July 24, Jones issued a threat aimed at Robert Mueller on The Alex Jones Show:
“That’s a demon I will take down, or I’ll die trying. So that’s it. It’s going to happen, we’re going to walk out in the square, politically, at high noon, and he’s going to find out whether he makes a move man, make the move first, and then it’s going to happen,” Jones said, miming a pistol with his hand. “It’s not a joke. It’s not a game. It’s the real world. Politically. You’re going to get it, or I’m going to die trying, bitch. Get ready. We’re going to bang heads. We’re going to bang heads.”
I don’t care who you are, even if your speech is not a credible threat of violence directly from you, if it glorifies violence, especially against a named individual, it could easily influence some of your listeners to do so, and you could legitimately be held liable. This level of recklessness is just plain stupid.
Likewise, Jones’ Sandy Hook hoax talk is not limited to run-of-the-mill conspiracy. Nor are many demonstrably false claims he’s made, some of which have caused real-world suffering for his named targets, others for which he as been sued. In at least one case I’ve seen, he settled out of court and retracted his claims publicly. He has had to retracted more than one such public claim. Likewise,
More recently, Jones has been embroiled in a series of lawsuits filed by people about whom he has made repeated false assertions, like Marcel Fontaine: Infowars declared him to be the shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida (despite the fact that Fontaine had never even visited the state of Florida). There’s also Leonard Pozner, the father of a Sandy Hook victim, Noah Pozner, whose family has endured endless harassment by followers of Jones who believe that Pozner’s son never existed.
To be clear, this isn’t the first time Jones has been sued for making outrageous false statements. But now, supporters of his victims have started going after not just Jones but the platforms that host him and broadcast his messages—like Facebook.
Some highlights include things like the following. First, Jones was not removed from YouTube in some shock-raid or something. He was warned for clear violations and placed on a 90-day suspension.
Last week, YouTube removed four of Mr. Jones’s videos for violating its child endangerment and hate speech standards and barred him from live-streaming on the site for 90 days, though his channel remains a main source for his broadcasts.
When Jones then openly defied that suspension using other channels, they lowered the hammer.
Second, the NYTimes relates the details of the most recent court case filings. One Sandy Hook parent alleges that after getting some of Jones’s videos removed, Jones ranted against online for an hour, and,
“Mr. Jones then showed his audience my personal information and maps to addresses associated with my family,” the affidavit says.
Lucy Richards, an Infowars devotee, was arrested the next year for repeatedly threatening Mr. Pozner’s life. She was sentenced to five months in prison last year. As a condition of parole, a judge ordered that she cease consuming Infowars programming, the court documents state.
Making false claims, losing settlements, or getting sued are not necessarily “hate speech” or endangerment, but both have also followed, apparently, in Jones’s case. Going one step further, as the article referenced above points out, the social media platforms themselves could eventually bear some liability if they allow such things to continue, especially knowingly, and something should result from it.
Some may ask, “Why now?” suggesting the timing is random after allowing Jones free reign for so long. Others think the timing is calculated, coming just ahead of mid-term elections. Democrats are seeking to gain seats, and Jones is purported to be a key player in Trump’s influence.
I think that’s highly unlikely. If it had any truth at all, it would not be out of fear of Jones’s direct influence in the elections. It would be trying to bait Trump into publicly supporting Jones. Then liberals could use that material to no end—Trump aligning himself with the worst of the conspiracy nuts. This would not hurt Trump with his base, but it could certainly hurt anyone he’s endorsed among swing voters and in contested areas.
But I don’t even think that is likely. I think the social media giants have simply caved to outside pressure, particularly with the possibility they could be proven liable.
At any rate, one thing I know for sure is that they do take their community standards rather seriously, at least in certain focused venues. One of those venues is certainly with sponsored ads. I know from personal experience that even minor infractions will be disapproved and compliance required. On a couple of occasions, American Vision has attempted to run ads incorporating some piece of classical art which depicted nudity (in the old classical art sense). Even this could not squeak by the review.
Note: this was not because American Vision is conservative, controversial, etc. In fact, some of these ads were for my slavery book, which progressives would hardly dock for the content alone. Nor was it for hate speech or anything like that, but the details in the cover photo of the book contain both graphic violence and nudity. Even though it is a historically verifiable depiction of real-life, and even though a classic piece of western art, it was nevertheless disallowed for those reasons.
Such photos are routinely allowed, however, on the general platform. It is only when I tried to run them as paid ads that they were disapproved—though not removed. I suspect that such things slide by every day, and some more than others. Perhaps there is even bias in allowing liberals greater slack than conservatives. Perhaps there are even people saying and doing the same kinds of things as Jones without repercussions. But one thing of which I am fairly certain: if you have an audience of millions and you say the kinds of reckless things Jones has, you can bet you will draw attention.
It is probably not a stretch to say Facebook does not want to be the next Napster.
But is this a “First they came for the Infowars. . . .” scenario? Will they start cracking down on “hate speech” to the nth degree? Will we wake up tomorrow and find anyone quoting the Bible in opposition to homosexual practice or transgenderism banned as well? It’s feasible. The only things that will matter at that point will be whether the conservative response will cost these platforms enough that they care, or whether you have a back-up plan if they don’t.
I’d hope for the former, but given what I’ve seen out of the willingness of Christians and conservatives to stand and sacrifice their lifestyles for their principles, I’d be shocked if they organized enough social pressure. Would they be statist enough to demand government to force private platforms to let them back on? If so, what are they really fighting for? Not freedom, certainly.
If, however, we opted for the latter route of providing a viable conservative-friendly alternative, the moral foundation needed for the job would be extraordinary. Such a platform would probably have excluded the reckless nonsense of Jones long before Facebook and others today. I mean, they won’t even let that guy on Fox News, do they?
Joel McDurmon, Ph.D., is president of American Vision and has authored multiple books, including Restoring America One County at a Time, and God versus Socialism, as well as his latest The Problem of Slavery in Christian America. Dr. McDurmon is also featured in several audio and video lectures on various topics of economics, apologetics, and church history.