On Monday, Apple, Facebook, and YouTube all decided, in apparently coordinated fashion, to remove content from Infowars, the dumpster fire conspiracy outlet run by famed nut case Alex Jones. Jones, you’ll recall, is the same fellow who suggested that the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre was a “false flag,” promoted Pizzagate, and likes to rant about gay frogs. He’s also not a fan of mine, for what it’s worth, and has even quasi-threatened our business:
The social media companies used a variety of policies to crack down on Jones. Apple removed five out of six of Jones’ podcast streams, including The Alex Jones Show. Facebook and Google did the same, with Facebook dumping four pages controlled by Jones, and Google removing the Alex Jones Channel. An Apple spokesperson stated:
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 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.
Facebook announced that it had removed Jones’ pages “for glorifying violence, which violates our graphic violence policy, and using dehumanizing language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims and immigrants, which violates our hate speech policies.” Facebook said its ban had nothing to do with “fake news.” YouTube gave similar reasons: “When users violate these policies repeatedly, like our policies against hate speech and harassment or our terms prohibiting circumvention of our enforcement measures, we terminate their accounts.”
First, the caveats: these are all private companies, and their termination of Jones’ accounts isn’t a legal violation of the First Amendment.
But it is a problem. It’s a problem because these policies are extraordinarily vague. These policies aren’t merely designed to crack down on speech openly advocating or threatening violence, or containing obscenity. These policies are deliberately unclear as well as political.
What, for example, constitutes “hate speech”? Much of what Jones and his employees say is absolutely rotten pig excrement, but there’s no definition of hate speech that has a limiting principle. Is it “using dehumanizing language to describe people who are transgender” to state that transgender people suffer from a mental disorder? Or that they are not in fact members of the gender to which they claim membership? What constitutes “hate speech” when discussing the relationship between radical Islam and terrorism? None of this has been made clear.
Furthermore, it won’t be made clear, because the political Left has no clear standards. So, for example, social media companies like Twitter will “accidentally” suspend Candace Owens, a black woman, for simply substituting the words “blacks” and “Jews” for “whites” in Sarah Jeong tweets to demonstrate the double standard in the media; Jeong, however, retains her elevated position at The New York Times. The same Left that says people of color are incapable of racism says that it will suspend people for “hate speech.” How exactly are we supposed to trust in free and open debate when those setting the limits are openly setting them up with embedded double-standards?
The answer is, we don’t. Trust in social media is declining nearly as fast as trust in media overall. There’s a reason for that. And it’s not because social media tolerates voices like Jones. It’s because they don’t tolerate voices like Jones while tolerating voices who are just as bad on the political Left – and they show no signs of limiting their censorship to Alex Jones.