BAILEY T. STEEN | WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 8, 2018
“Goebbels was in favour of free speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re really in favour of free speech, then you’re in favour of freedom of speech for precisely the views you despise. Otherwise, you’re not in favour of free speech.”
― Noam Chomsky (left-wing philosopher and, now, a ‘free speech extremist’)
It’s no secret that Alex Jones, professional conspiracy theorist and creator of the independent ‘news’ site InfoWars, is among the most despised of our modern political commentators. On these special occasions, when he’s not leading an army of internet crazies against treacherous plots from vampire pedophiles, the man is facing his toughest enemies yet: the major big tech platforms who banned all of his accounts within the span of 12 hours.
On Monday, The Guardian published a report detailing how executives over at Apple, Google, Facebook and Spotify have all decided to unilaterally remove content “associated with InfoWars and its founder Alex Jones”. As one of the largest purges of a popular internet personality by big tech, this vindicates a narrative of Jones’ that establishment empires, from government officials heading up the “deep state” to virtue signalling corporate America™, are trying to suppress the freedoms of some humble water-filter merchant.
Jones, who frequently pretends to be a straight-shooting newsman, has always used his InfoWars brand to peddle the most dark and bizarre of the online right-wing’s conspiracies. He was among the leading voices into rampant conspiracies such as 9/11 trutherism, the anti-Obama birther movement, global child-sex rings from the #PizzaGate campaign and the ruthless questioning into whether the 2012 child massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a hoax in order to install strict gun control—which lead to nearly a decade of continued harassment by InfoWars viewers against the surviving victims and families of the deceased.
There’s no doubt Jones is a profoundly loathsome liar. He’s a man who, on a near daily basis, produces not only morally repugnant content, bordering on the sociopathic, but commentary that’s legally questionable regarding violations of libel and slander laws. However, according to statements released by these multi-billion dollar private companies, these weren’t the reasons why Jones was suddenly booted from their platforms.
So why, all of a sudden, was the king of misinformation unpersoned?
Well, in months past, social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter touted their progressive values when it came to the freedom of the press, issuing tweets as late as this July saying they’d rather “demote” and “derank” posts spreading misinformation rather than banning sources outright.
“We just don’t think banning Pages for sharing conspiracy theories or false news is the right way to go,” a Facebook spokesperson said. “They seem to have YouTube and Twitter accounts too — we imagine for the same reasons.” Twitter issued their own response stating that they don’t comment on the status of individual accounts, nor “should we be the arbiter of truth.”
Now it appears they’ve become the inconsistent arbiters of online morality.
In the words of Spotify’s spokesperson, Jones is public enemy number one because he “expressly and principally promotes, advocates, or incites hatred or violence against a group or individual based on characteristics”.
Facebook and Apple told BuzzFeed News they were “glorifying violence” and using “dehumanizing language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims and immigrants,” which violate their policies on graphic violence and the increasingly subjective term of “hate speech”.
Apple wrote their company “does not tolerate hate speech, and we have clear guidelines that creators and developers must follow to ensure we provide a safe environment for all of our users. Podcasts that violate these guidelines are removed from our directory, making them no longer searchable or available for download or streaming. We believe in representing a wide range of views, so long as people are respectful to those with differing opinions.”
By 3am, as one ban followed another, YouTube, which is currently owned by parent company Google, decided to permanently terminate Jones’ account which had roughly 2.4 million subscribers. In their public statement released to The Guardian, where they refuse to label Jones directly by name, a spokesperson working for YouTube said:
“All users agree to comply with our terms of service and community guidelines when they sign up to use the YouTube platform. When users violate these policies repeatedly,” the spokesperson continued, “like our policies against hate speech and harassment, or our terms prohibiting circumvention of our enforcement measures, we terminate their accounts.”
This was quickly hailed as a victory among activists and pundits all across the political aisle. Each side made the argument it’s within the rights of these private institutions, regardless of their current monopoly status, to disassociate from people on their own platform based on their own malleable content policies and the selective whims of their admins. This could very well be true… if Google was truly a private company.
In June, TrigTent reported on leaked emails detailing Google’s involvement with the Defence Department’s controversial “Project Maven” initiative. The company secretly signed an agreement with the Pentagon offering to provide “cutting edge artificial intelligence technology” to assist the US military in their continued drone warfare, in exchange for large multi-million dollar payments pulled from the defence budget. This lead to an internal revolt among Google employees, resulting in mass resignations, as well as protests and petitions calling on their executives to end these governmental ties.
It was Wikileaks who pointed out that, regardless of one’s views of Alex Jones, the man is an American citizen known for criticising his own nation-state. It’s the same nation-state who’s government is paying Google to the tunes of millions for drone enhancements frequently criticised by hard-line leftists in Chomsky to independent media the likes of — you guessed it — InfoWars. Now the government subsidised company, who announced their military contract will only end come 2019, has purged a governmental critic from their ranks.
Well. Imagine. My. Shock.
If even just one penny of tax payer funds goes towards private universities, claiming protections under the First Amendment don’t apply on their campus, can they truly be considered “private”? Let alone large subsidises from government departments? The justification for taxes, among the right and the left, is they’re public funds used to uphold citizens’ rights, liberties and entitlements under constitutions. “No taxation without representation,” the old saying goes. Why, suddenly, can the government give any of these taxes away to institutions who will claim no such representative obligations?
Leftists often criticise the United States’ $3 billion in annual foreign aid to Israel, a country whose government violates international law and American values whether we’re talking the IDF treatment of Palestinian protesters being shot on sight to illegal land occupations in the area. There’s a solid argument that countries that accept tax money should, in turn, comply with amendments guaranteeing human rights. Companies, who host platforms to billions around the world, should fall under this standard.
Project Maven, by comparison, had Google earning an initial $15 million per year to an annual $250 million, yet there’s suddenly no argument from the left criticising this anti-capitalist contradiction. Individual discrimination wouldn’t fly if those taxes went towards theatres, museums, parks, healthcare, education, numerous rebel groups throughout the Middle East, and it shouldn’t when it comes to online platforms who essentially act as the new public square for the digital age. Until such ties are forfeited, perhaps the “but they’re private companies” argument would stick.
That’s if I’ll even grant termination without investigation is morally just.
In principle, labour activists throughout history, who tend to gravitate towards left-wing ideology, have fought for the rights of workers when it comes to representation in opposition from corporate tyranny. It’s a left-wing position to say workers, regardless of their trade, shouldn’t be fired without notice or no evidence provided showing wrong-doing. Why shouldn’t this apply to content creators? After all, in an American context, they’re a supposedly neutral public forum, protected from the unlawful actions of their third party users under Section 230 of the Communications Act, and their overarching admins are acting as their boss.
Surely if companies won’t admit to firing their own workers for being black, or female, or homosexual, or transgender, or any protected characteristic considered questionable, we shouldn’t automatically believe that big tech monopolies like Google are above discrimination based on political ideology or news gathering they can spin as “hate speech”, “fake news” or “conspiracy”.
TrigTent has also reported on the silence of these so-called free speech warriors regarding The Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, a new piece of GOP legislation where criticism of Israel, the nation, is being conflated with forms of hate speech and discrimination against jews, the group of individuals. Such anti-free speech measures in law are unjust, sure to prove disastrous for progressive politics in shows who speak out about such subjects online.
It’s understandable certain politics, such as the alt-right, can entail hatred of groups and calls for violence. We can come to this decision on our own, subjectively, and reach accurate answers amongst ourselves. In the context of government censorship, if this act passed, for example, the government would drag these people through the judicial mud until an answer was reached.
In the context of markets, however, where it’s a “private” space that’s only alive because of it being open to the public, can disputes only be left to ourselves? Is the government, in most or all cases, not to intervene to ensure at least some accountability? Or the judiciary? Or new branches of the company that, by legislation, must be formed to act as an internal affairs branch? Is leaving injustices to be handled by the potential offenders themselves, who reign at the very top of the company, really all that sensible?
They wield extraordinarily vague policies where, no matter how much ethical labour you’ve devoted to their platform which you’ve helped build, it can be ripped away by the current top-down structure without any recourse in a staggeringly non-inclusive market with no alternative to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google, iTunes, any site the wider world uses to live online lives. These are private companies, yes, with a reach beyond that of nation-states. With influence more powerful than television. With liability protections unlike the mainstream media giants in your CNNs and The New York Times. This is a global anti-trust issue and there’s no internet bill of rights to even define what our online liberties are, let alone watchdogs to protect them.
They don’t owe Alex Jones mountains of cash, but they do owe the public their fair hearings for their work. If Alex Jones were to be taken down, it should be done based on principle, for potential crimes where he’s currently facing court lawsuits right now, not the supposed kindness of Silicon Valley overlords who chose a target who went against neo-liberal morality.
Now they’ll try to appease conservatives by appearing bipartisan, taking aim at previously blacklisted left-wing channels in Secular Talk or David Pakman, and their colleagues in TYT, The Jimmy Dore Show, Sargon Of Akkad, Abby and Robbie Martin, anywhere establishments fear dissent. But we weren’t humble water filter merchants, so, of course, we didn’t speak out…
Thanks for reading!
Bailey T. Steen is a journalist, editor, artist and film critic based in Victoria, Australia, but is also Putin’s Puppet™ on occasion.
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Cheers, darlings!! 💋