Will Kicking Alex Jones Off Of Social Media Backfire?!? Nope.
This week, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has found himself banned from nearly every possible social media outlet (except for Twitter) on the internet, following a particularly abhorrent outburst in which he actually mimed shooting Robert Mueller. For many outlets, this just went too far.
I am, usually, a free speech absolutist. Not even just as a matter of principle, but because I find that it tends to work better for me than the alternative. I abide by the "enough rope" and "sunshine is the best disinfectant" philosophy of people who say stupid ass shit. I win arguments with stupid men not by telling them to shut up, but by asking them questions until they want to disappear in a hole of regret and die or, at the very least, take a vow of silence. I'm fucking vicious and it is adorable.
That being said, I also believe that if you are hosting a lovely dinner party and some asshole starts being an asshole, you are within your rights to kick him the hell out, for the sake of the rest of your guests. I believe that you are allowed to set the terms for your own space. In fact, it seems as though this is one thing InfoWars actually agrees with me on.
Behold, the commenting policy for their site, courtesy of ShareBlue's Oliver Darcy:
Heck, their policy is even more strict than Wonkette's, and we don't even have comments! Facebook, YouTube and other social media sites are not enacting anything more strict than Infowars' very own commenting policy. Alex Jones says things that are libelous, he says things that are hateful, he says things that are "racially or ethnically objectionable." He makes threats to people. He tells morons to prepare for a coming civil war. He weaponizes stupid.
Of course, not everyone agrees with me, and some think that this banning of Jones could "backfire."
Over at USA Today, conservative columnist Brad Polumbo (who appears to not be very fond of Jones) suggested that these measures against Jones could result in some kind of Streisand effect and make him stronger than ever before.
Jones is already encouraging his followers to stream his content directly from his website. Stripping his videos from other websites will only reinforce his conspiratorial narrative. Infowars followers will be pushed deeper down the conspiracy rabbit hole, and this controversy has just given Jones millions in free advertising. The objective was to lessen Jones' influence, but this censorship will prove to be self-defeating.
I am not foolish enough to believe that this will make his most dedicated followers less likely to believe his bullshit. Most of those people are already lost. If not him, they will find somebody else, or they will just make up their own shit. Trust me when I say there is enough of that stuff to go around. But it's a hell of a lot different when you actually have to go looking for it, when you have to put in the actual effort, and a lot of people just are not going to bother.
Between 1963 and 1975, the number of suicides in Britain dropped drastically. Was it because people suddenly became perkier? Not so much! Rather, it coincided with the removal of carbon monoxide from the gas supply. Suicide by oven gas was relatively easy and painless compared to other methods. When that option was removed, there were still suicides, but those who went through with it were more committed. Putting the extra steps in cut down on the suicides of people who wouldn't otherwise bother. In social science, this is called "means reduction."
For a less extreme example, in the documentary "The Brainwashing of My Dad," filmmaker Jen Senko explores the transformation of her father from a fairly apolitical Democrat to a rage-filled right-wing fanatic -- a change brought on by constantly listening to Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. Spoiler alert, when she and her mother get rid of Fox and his radio breaks and they don't replace it, he becomes a normal human person again. Sure, he could have taken the extra steps to get a new radio and to watch Fox someplace else, but he didn't bother. Most people are not going to bother, and those that do likely won't bother that often.
Part of what makes Jones so enticing for these people isn't just him on his own, but the feeling of being part of that community, the feeling of being one of the ones who truly "gets it." By cutting down on the number of communities surrounding Jones, his influence will dwindle.
Polumbo notes that students protesting people like Milo Yiannopoulos and Richard Spencer helped raise their profile.
When a similar right-wing provocateur, Milo Yiannopoulos, visited the campus of the University of Massachusetts, he was set to speak to an audience of a few hundred college students. But after left-wing protests shut down his speech, more than 2.5 million watched the video online. When the white nationalist Richard Spencer visited the University of Florida, campus censorship turned his rally into national news.
He's not wrong -- though I would argue that the point of those protests was not to decrease the prominence of those individuals, but to keep their school from spending their tuition money on hateful bullshit.
However! Take a moment and think -- outside of the The Observer reporting his comments about killing journalists a few days before someone went and killed a bunch of journalists -- when was the last time you recall anyone giving a flying fuck about Milo Yiannopoulos? Not for a while now! He's not on Twitter, he's not on Breitbart. He's publishing on his own site ... and nobody cares. Sure, there are still people who worship him, but he's not really much of a "thing" anymore. And that's because people have to put in more effort to pay attention to them, and it's not convenient. If he's not a constant presence in their lives, they may start seeing his bullshit for what it is.
Not everyone who thinks this will "backfire" is on the Right. The ACLU's Vera Eidelman said,
"While private companies can choose what to take down from their sites, the fact that social media platforms like Facebook have become indispensable platforms for the speech of billions means that they should resist calls to censor offensive speech," Vera Eidelman, fellow with the ACLU's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, tells Raw Story.
"The recent decision by Facebook and YouTube to take down Alex Jones' content may have provided a quick solution to a challenging situation, but encouraging these companies to silence individuals in this way will backfire," she noted.
"Whether out of distaste for hateful speech or inaccurate content, they will get it wrong. We've already seen it go wrong when Facebook silenced women of color for repeating word-for-word the vitriol thrown at them, without similarly censoring those who made the racist comments to begin with."
"We also saw it go wrong when Facebook decided just last week to shut down a real protest event page for engaging in purported 'inauthentic' behavior."
I hear ya, Vera Eidelman, and that is some bullshit. I understand your concerns, especially with the disingenuous ... well, lies the Right has been known to pull. However, any supposed catch-22 that might occur could easily be avoided by these sites not being stupid or falling for any of the Right's "turnabout is fair play" shrieking. Obviously, there is a difference between someone saying "Hey, look at this horrible thing this person said to me" and the person saying that thing in the first place. There is an obvious difference between racism and people reacting to racism.
There is also no need to play along with the Right's disingenuous false equivalency game in which they try to pretend that "racism against white people" is a) a thing or b) as serious as racism against actual victims of structural racism. That is about as pointless as seriously pondering the question "I know you are but what am I?" Should they be confused as to what to tell these people when they inquire as to why their concerns are not taken seriously, they can simply be told that their complaints are being shelved for now and surely be revisited just as soon as "racism against white people" is real.
These companies could also, perhaps, acknowledge that not permitting the oppressed to complain about their oppressors is a form of oppression in and of itself.
It is not, actually, all that difficult. Perhaps these companies could consider hiring a person whose entire job it is to have some common sense, should they be concerned. I would be willing to volunteer!
Then there's Jack. Twitter's Jack. Jack Dorsey. Who last night explained, stupidly, the reason why Twitter was not banning Alex Jones.
He also had a theory that somehow, Jones being on Twitter was necessary ... so that journalists could document and debunk his bullshit.
As someone who does that exact thing, I can assure Jack that I do not require Alex Jones to be on Twitter in order to accomplish this task. Also, I am not under the impression that debunking bizarre theories about gay frogs is some beautiful, robust, important conversation that we the people need to be having in order for people to form their own opinions. It's not as if we are all a bunch of pipe-smoking philosophy professors sitting around in tweed sports coats engaging in a robust debate about Schopenhauer's theory of aesthetics. That is not what is happening here. There does not need to be a public conversation surrounding this idiocy any more than there needs to be one about whether or not Elvis is still alive.
The banishing of Alex Jones from the public eye could "backfire," sure. But the only way for that to happen is for people to allow it. Let's all decide right now that we won't!
[USA Today | RawStory]
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Previously, she was a Senior Staff Writer at Death & Taxes, and Assistant Editor at The Frisky (RIP). Currently, she writes for Wonkette, Friendly Atheist, Quartz and other sites. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse