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Banning Alex Jones and Infowars

He is treated as the bogeyman of conspiracy entertainment, and Alex Jones has become a prominent figure for advancing a host of unsavoury views. High on his list of incendiaries is the claim that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary shooting never took place and was the work of paid fantasists, with the victims’ parents being “crisis actors”. “Sandy Hook,” went Jones in a January 2015 broadcast, “is a synthetic, completely fake, with actors, in my view, manufactured.” The parents of two children killed at the school massacre are suing.

There are seemingly few limits to the Jones armoury of hyper-scepticism. But Jones has been in the business of such production for years. Now, a campaign for banishing him from various platforms, including Infowars, has been enacted with a degree of censorious ferocity. Summary bans have been made, ranging from the giants such as Apple, Twitter and Spotify, to Pinterest and MailChimp.

Apple took the lead in this competitive banning binge, removing five of the six Infowars podcasts available via iTunes this week, including “The Alex Jones Show” and “War Room”, while Facebook removed four Infowars pages for violating the company’s guidelines.

An Apple spokesperson explained the company’s position in a statement: “Apple 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 our users.” Accordingly, “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.”

Spotify has also added its name to the list. “We take reports of hate content seriously,” went a statement, “and review any podcast episode or song that is flagged by our community. Due to repeated violations of Spotify’s prohibited content policies, The Alex Jones Show has lost access to the Spotify platform.”

Who is guarding whom, and who should decide which ideas are significantly safe, less discomforting or otherwise? Contraries are, by definition, discomforting; the contrarian, by definition, dangerously disruptive. The idea of social media platforms becoming a constabulary for the controlling of opinion – located in the vague economy of “hate” – is ominous. Nor have these technology mammoths articulated “a clear standard,” as Ben Shapiro notes, “by which the conspiracy theorist should be banned”.

Twitter prefers a different approach. “We didn’t suspend Alex Jones or Infowars yesterday,” came Jack Dorsey’s announcement on the medium he helped found. “We know it’s hard for many but the reason is simple: he hasn’t violated our rules. We’ll enforce if he does.”

For Dorsey, the role of policing Jones is not for Twitter and such platforms, but the media proper, an estate that has been somewhat remiss in recent years. He did not want to take “one-off actions to make us feel good in the short term, and adding fuel to new conspiracy theories.”

This in of itself sensible view has drawn the predictable moralising and indignation. Aja Romano of Vox is particularly riled. “This response is breathtakingly amoral, as well as regressive, terrible decision-making – for Twitter, for the internet, for all of us. It should be a moment of reckoning for everyone who uses Twitter.”

Words do move and change worlds, and care should, at select times, be taken, but who polices their dissemination and exchange remains key. Dorsey has simply diagnosed an inherent problem in the information ecosystem about rage and counter-rage: who controls the participants, bars or muzzles the competition, should not, by default, fall to the giants. For the market place of ideas to function with a fair degree of effect, it is participants who dictate their value, oiled by intermittent legal interventions to test the limits of free speech.

Free speech scholars have been sceptical about whether Jones can available himself of the First Amendment protections. “False speech,” goes a submission by four jurists in an amicus brief in the Brennan Gilmore case, “does not serve the public interest the way that true speech does.” (Gilmore, a Democratic Party activist and former State Department official was in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017 attending a violent rally that subsequently saw the death of Heather Heyer, killed by a car driven by James Alex Fields, Jr). Furthermore, the jurists insist that “there is no constitutional value in false statements of fact.”

Jones, for his part, has submitted in court papers that his rubbishing of Gilmore (a CIA plant hired to foment disorder, he suggested) were opinions, rather than statements of fact while Infowars was a “freewheeling” website where “hyperbole and diatribe reign as the preferred tools of discourse.”

The other issue in such summary bans is how they are challenged. Tech platforms acting as righteous disciplinarians seems an odd thing, appropriating a degree of power they simply should not have. And foolishly, the campaign against Jones has given him a sense of dangerous frisson. His information and views will not necessarily disappear so much as migrate to other forums and mutate with aggression. The conspiracy theorist will ride again, even as the various tech giants bask in the ethical afterglow spurred on by anger and undefined standards of hate.


17 comments

  1. Nerodog1

    It’s ridiculous to go after Alex Jones when our mainstream/corporates have been running the country and supporting wars with lies. But they don’t like the competition. Jones may sometimes come up with really far-out stuff, but so do they – just in less emotional writing. I think the corporate press can’t stand the competition.

  2. corvus boreus

    Disagree.
    Alex Jones has chosen to repeatedly breach the service conditions of some businesses he chose to frequent, and has consequentially been refused further service.
    Such is their commercial right. .
    It is not just that Jones’ spreading of malicious falsehoods about the Sandy Hook massacre directly resulted in the persecution and terrorizing of families for the ‘sin’ of having suffered the murder of their children (currently the subject of civil actions against Jones), it is also the fact that he not only accused a senior public official (Robert Mueller) of very serious crimes without providing any kind of substantiating evidence, but also incited violence/murder against the same person.
    When a business allows itself to be platform the the peddling of toxic bullshit like that, they not only expose themselves to consumer backlash, but also to potential legal action.
    I have no sympathy for Alex jones losing his posting rights on Phuzbook and Yewchoob, and think that Ben Shapiro is an uber-conservative jerk who is too irrationally superstitious to appear in public without a place-mat on top of his head.

  3. Miriam English

    It is a difficult problem. Banning people because they violate hate speech rules is okay. I don’t think hate speech is ever really acceptable. And I understand the fears raised by a powerful media organisation blocking out contrary views. People are correct to fear it, because it is potentially dangerous.

    But there is a utilitarian aspect to this that tends to go unnoticed. People who have great influence should be held to much tighter rules than others because of the increased damage they can cause. If Alex Jones, or Andrew Bolt, or Peter Dutton spreads racist lies then the penalty should be far more severe than if some disabled pensioner, who nobody really listens to, spouts racist nonsense.

    Alex Jones is a special worry because of the delusions, hatred, and intolerance he promotes. For some time now there has been a clear connection between religion and dysfunctional societies. Of course, correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation, however recent research has shown that it is the intolerance and disregard for others’ rights that causes these social illnesses. (And religion does tend to promote intolerance and it commonly fights against the rights of women, gays, atheists, and people of other religions and cultures.)

    Alex Jones is a nasty, hateful weasel, but that shouldn’t be our reason for isolating him; it’s because his views are too dangerous for the health of society. He should still be able to vomit his warped views onto people, just not to large numbers of people. We should limit society’s exposure to his sickness.

    The problem then becomes, how do we decide what should be allowed? Because this can obviously be misused. There is no easy way to judge this. Perhaps we need Sam Harris’ science of moral values discussed in his book “The Moral Landscape”. It is easy to call out promotion of hate and inciting violence. More difficult are the delusions he promotes.

    We are just coming out of decades of misinformation about saturated fats being bad for you. The misinformation was done, for the most part, with the best of intentions, but at its center was a genuine conspiracy by those who benefitted from pushing sugar and other carbohydrates. This has been made worse by the pseudoscience over statins promoted by the pharmaceutical industry. I don’t believe there was a conspiracy there; I’m pretty sure they genuinely believed they were helping society (though they must have been delighted that it made them mountains of money in the process). My point is that conspiracies and misinformation can come out of the best ideals to reduce harm, and these efforts can actually kill. We’ll never know how many early deaths could have been avoided if the low-fat nonsense had not been so vigorously promoted.

    The Nazis, in their efforts to exterminate the Jews and Gypsies and homosexuals, didn’t do so because they were two dimensional villains; they genuinely wanted to improve society. They unfortunately latched onto the pseudoscience of eugenics and used it to justify their prejudices. But they thought they were doing the right thing. They believed the bullshit conspiracy theories about Jews wanting world domination, so they launched a real conspiracy to exterminate them.

    We need to have better ways to deal with conspiracy theories and with real conspiracies. And we need to stop people spreading hate and intolerance.

    We must be intolerant of intolerance.

  4. corvus boreus

    I will repeat/clarify.
    Top of the list of reasons for the banning of Alex Jones from some commercial social media platforms, and conspicuousy unmentioned in this article, is the fact that a few days ago Jones, completely without evidence, accused special investigator Robert Mueller of participating in a pedophile ring, and publicly called for his murder (albeit in a ‘pantomime’ way).

    Spotify, Apple, Youtube and Facebook have chosen to refuse to allow their companies to be utilized for the broadcasting of possibly slanderous/libelous accusations and advocacy for the murder of a senior law enforcement official.

    I don’t really blame or judge them too harshly for doing so.
    If you do, feel free to boycott their products and tweet your disgust.

  5. phil

    The one and only time i found myself watching Jones led me to thinking he was a comedian and a ham actor at best. So it seems there are people who take his skits seriously – wow!

  6. Matters Not

    One viewing of an Alex Jones’s rant should be enough for the average person with a modicum of education but unfortunately not.

    People tend to have core and belt beliefs with belt beliefs discarded under pressure while the core beliefs able to withstand all types of pressure. Take the US evangelicals as an example and their support of Trump – the serial adulterer and atheist. His support continues because he asks for forgiveness while (crucially) providing other supportive ammunition for other core beliefs.

    As for Jones; – here’s a TYT clip.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pmKgcTsPcto

  7. guest

    I prefer not to know about American trash. The place looks like a madhouse from this side of the Pacific.

    Unfortunately there are some journalists who feed us with loopy information about the USA and try to make links between the USA and Australia. What we get too often is the suggestion that, while we might dislike the bad that Trump does, we should look at the good he has done – how he is doing what he promised.

    I mean – seriously.

    It is a very difficult thing to be “respectful’ to people who are determined to put us down and who treat us as if we are ignorant. Unfortunately we are constrained in how much we can speak out against loopy nonsense when the means is not freely available and the MSM lives in fear of declining revenue and the loss of jobs. Too many people in high places are shielded from scrutiny while the small fry, guilty or not, are pilloried for as long as it takes…days…weeks…years. You know: “There are questions to be asked about them, but not for me!”

    It dismays me that writers at AIMN such as Kaye Lee and others can list the horrors of the present Coalition “government” and yet hardly a mention in the MSM about what are clearly reprehensible practices.

  8. Michael Taylor

    Guest wrote:

    “It dismays me that writers at AIMN such as Kaye Lee and others can list the horrors of the present Coalition “government” and yet hardly a mention in the MSM about what are clearly reprehensible practices.” (My bold)

    Guest, that is the reason we exist. 😀

  9. guest

    Thank you, Michael, I understand and appreciate what AIMN is doing. Some reasons why MSM is reluctant to really investigate and question, I have mentioned.

    I have just watched The Drum discussing matters involving the politicians Husar, Joyce and Cash – and what is the difference between them. It is interesting to see the different approaches between the respondents, depending on politics, news source, gender, personal experience and, of course, how much we know about the events. But what I wrote above, before seeing The Drum, about scrutiny and pillorying was quite apparent, even in just 10-15 minutes of talk. But cut short, with some interjecting. Move on.

    Thank you for your existence as a platform for more open discussion and some time to particpate.

  10. paul walter

    Guest, Fascinating person, Sue Boyce. It really takes a triple somersault with double overhead pike to even remotely figure some of her thought processes and propositions..

    Pascoe is good value for money though.

    For the rest, I won’t comment. Like some at the Drum and here I loath shock jock types, but I also loathe the shallowness of cultural critique that individualises this stuff – these types seem often badly individuated people from atypical family environments, suffering from substance abuse problems and psychoses, eg Howard Beale types.

    It is true that you could substitute many of these folk for people like Trump and Scott Morrison so in theory I’d like to see them dealt with.

    But, oth, I have often been unfairly censored from certain types of sites, despite only attempting to be constructive, not using bad language but proposing a rational viewpoint variant to the person in control of the site.

    If the state censors fascists today, does it set a precedent for censoring progressives tomorrow (of course, lefties are already a pretty much-censored species as it is so it is a moot point)?

    As I said above, I loath creatures like the one described, yet still, believe censorship must be an act of very last resort, when hate speech is unrefutably overt.

  11. paul walter

    I see Quiggin has a posting in similar vein at his blog, but a slight worry I have, that we make Horst Wessel type martyrs of these odd balls.

    When the right has the ascendancy it will swing an axe on the basis that it was done to them earlier, as we have seen with the Abbott faction and its increasing stranglehold over media and press here also Turnbull’s neoliberals exploiting that.

    I know they would think of an excuse if there was no justification, but progressives have to remember that if we have right on our side we ought to be able to refute numbskull types via our affection for and employ of, reason and evidence.

    Why ban them when it is often easy to deal with their nonsenses in open forums

    ps I understand the hate speech justification and understand its employ, but still am uneasy.

  12. Kronomex

    Alex Jones is all about money, nothing else except money. The “conspiracy” bullshit is a simple way for him to vacuum money up from idiots.

  13. Andrew J. Smith

    Alex Jones, Infowars, Breitbart etc are fringe media in the USA where according to a snippet in this morning’s Briefing (Saturday Paper) US MSM don’t go to the depths of Australian MSM’s white nationalism (or neo white Oz sentiments).

    Further, the racist architect of the anti-immigration network informing Breitbart, GOP etc. understood that language had to be constrained to mask racist sentiments hence dog whistling of and encouraging legislation or public sentiment against immigrants, population growth, crime, low IQ (linked to blacks), Islam, Judiasm, ethnic ghettos etc. as proxies for creating antipathy towards non European, versus outright bigotry and white robes.

    He described it as ‘passive eugenics’, to maintain WASP hegemony (although declining in numbers) supported by fossil fuel and related oligarchs post WWII when openly supporting racism and eugenics was no longer acceptable.

    The academic fulcrum of this white Nativism is the Social Contract Press (including Australian academic contributors deemed to be immigration experts by our MSM):

    ‘The Social Contract Press (TSCP) routinely publishes race-baiting articles penned by white nationalists. The press is a program of U.S. Inc, the foundation created by John Tanton, the racist founder and principal ideologue of the modern nativist movement. TSCP puts an academic veneer of legitimacy over what are essentially racist arguments about the inferiority of today’s immigrants.’

    https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/social-contract-press

  14. paul walter

    Just watching this Alex Jones of Planet America, definitely weirded out…can human people be so stupid as to actually watch this sort of stuff?

    Very disturbing, looking to the future.

  15. Zathras

    Jones’ antics have backfired on him in other ways.

    His ex-wife was recently trying to stop him having access to his children because of the insanely dangerous and demented way he behaves.

    His lawyers admitted that he was “just an entertainer” and his whole perfomance was based on a false persona.

    Despite this admission, his rusted-on followers still believe in him, so what’s the point of complaining?

    As well as his promotion of the discredited Pizzagate fiasco, many parents of the Sandy Hook victims have mounted a Class Action against him and his claims that the whole thing was faked.

    Chances are he is set to lose a lot of money, and rightly so.

    I often check in on his antics at rightwingwatch.org. One look at that site will show why Jones has so many followers and how crazy people can be.

    http://www.rightwingwatch.org/post/infowars-terms-of-service-would-ban-its-own-content/

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