The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has come to the defense of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, calling his collective ban from social media “worrisome.”
Several weeks ago, Big Tech giants colluded with each other to ban Alex Jones and his site Infowars from several platforms for vague reasons like “hate speech.” Conservative commentators pointed out that such a loosely-defined term could result in other outlets being banned for speaking on topics that some would find offensive.
Ben Wizner, director of ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, said the ban on Alex Jones could set a dangerous precedent. Though he agrees that Big Tech giants are private companies and can ban whomever they wish, he believes it could be “misused and abused.”
“If [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions, for example, were deciding what’s hate speech, he would be less likely to think KKK and more likely to think [Black Lives Matter],” Wizner told HuffPo on Monday. “It turns out to be an extremely subjective term.”
“I have some of the same concerns about platforms making those decisions,” he added. “Governments at least purport to be acting solely in the public interest, but platforms are making these decisions based on what’s in their financial interest. So their interest might be in avoiding controversy, but do we want the most important speech platforms in the world to avoid controversy?”
Wizner said that an outright ban on someone for something like hate speech is “worrisome.” He would prefer platforms remove individual posts that violate their terms of service or deprioritize them as opposed to banning the person.
“From a free expression standpoint, you would say if these platforms want to minimize the impact of the offending speech, it’s preferable to do so in a way that falls short of complete censorship,” Wizner said.
Twitter has refrained from banning Alex Jones, with CEO Jack Dorsey fearing that by banning Jones they would become “arbiters of truth.” Wizner expressed support for that course of action.
“Who should decide what’s fake? … It’s not so easy to do in a way that is objective,” said Wizner. “If these platforms get in the business of trying to be the arbiters of truth or falsity, pretty soon everyone is going to have something to complain about.”
“Do we really want corporations that are answerable to their shareholders and their bottom lines being the ones who decide which political speech Americans should see or not see?” he added. “Because that’s what we’re asking for here.”
Wizner’s words were echoed by leftist comedian Bill Maher over the weekend on his HBO show “Real Time.” Even though his panel of leftists cheered the Jones ban, Maher believed that Jones should be allowed to speak. “That’s what free speech means. We’re losing the thread of the concepts that are important to this country,” Maher stated.