Saul: It's A Good Thing That Alex Jones Has Been Banned From Facebook

It's about time these platforms cleared out the hatred and violence.

A Grain of Saul is a weekly column that digs into some of the biggest issues we face as a nation and as an international community in search of reliable data, realistic solutions, and — most importantly — hope.  

YouTube, Facebook, Apple and Spotify have finally scraped Alex Jones from their platforms, a controversial crackdown on one of the internet's most vile personalities.

The moves against Jones and his website InfoWars came in quick succession on Monday and immediately sparked a debate over whether the "de-platforming" of Jones violates his "free speech." Jones' most ardent supporters were outraged, but fortunately for us, the leaders of these tech and social media giants appear to be standing their ground, pointing out the obvious reality that Jones has repeatedly and grossly violated their community standards, thus warranting the bans, suspensions and removals.

Notably, all four platforms punished Jones not for publishing fake news and conspiracy theories, which he does on a daily basis, but instead for inciting violence or hatred and using dehumanizing language to describe specific groups of people, like Muslims and immigrants. While none of the platforms cited which specific pieces of Jones' content violated those standards or were reported by users, one could easily make the case it's because there are so many to choose from. In the last few weeks alone, Jones warned that an armed civil war with liberals was coming, explained that "Muslims are allowed to rape because it's their culture," and claimed that Antifa was planning an armed assault on the right-wing Patriot Prayer group, which resulted in at least one man arming himself and marching in Portland, Oregon.

Recommended

Across social media, Jones' supporters and staunch conservatives alike have come to his defense. Breitbart News reporter Joel Pollak made the case that the First Amendment protects Americans from state censorship, but free speech should be a value held so strongly by society that the silencing of Jones is unacceptable.

"In practical terms the actual, imminent threat to press freedom today is the 'de-platforming' campaign to pressure private companies to censor content and outlets that left-wing activists don't like," Pollak tweeted. "Such campaigns are often protected, and even applauded, by the mainstream media."

Even Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, who has himself been a target of Jones' (Jones claimed repeatedly that Cruz's dad killed JFK), came to his defense. "Who the hell made Facebook the arbiter of political speech?" he tweeted. "Free speech includes views you disagree with."

The irony, of course, is that both Pollak and Cruz are the kind of staunch conservatives that believe in corporate personhood, the idea that corporations should be protected by certain First Amendment rights that allow them to do things like spend money on political campaigns. Pollak and Cruz have also vehemently defended private business owners like the baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple, citing his own religious beliefs. But now, when digital giants take a stand against Jones after they have laid out a clear set of community standards that he has repeatedly violated, tech leaders are suddenly in the wrong for deciding that they don't want Jones' disgusting content shared on their platform? What happened to Mark Zuckerberg's free speech rights? Why isn't he allowed to draw clear lines about what can and cannot be promoted on the platform he created?

A screenshot of InfoWars' homepage on Aug. 6

Another way to think about this controversy is to re-imagine the scenario in a context that Pollak, Cruz and other conservatives have already opined on. Let's say Zuckerberg owned a bakery and in that bakery he decided he didn't want his customers to be exposed to racism or bigotry. One day, a potential customer walks into the bakery and starts screaming about how America was better when the country was segregated. The other customers in the bakery are rightfully appalled and complain to Zuckerberg. Would anyone in their right mind disagree that in that moment, as the owner of the bakery, Zuckerberg is well within his right to ask the customer to leave? Or to call the police and force him out? I sincerely doubt it, and I doubt Pollak or Cruz would ever take that stance, either. 

Of course, Facebook is not a bakery — it's a social media platform built specifically to connect people and allow them to share ideas — all the more reason Zuckerberg should have a say in what can and cannot be shared there.

The prominent fear, of course, is the question that some people are already asking; if we ban Alex Jones now, who will be next? My answer to that question is simple: hopefully, everyone like him.

Alex Jones with a megaphone at the 2016 Republican National Convention. Belltreephotography / Shutterstock.com

Like most Americans, I use YouTube, Facebook, Spotify and the Apple iTunes store on a daily basis. I use them to watch interesting videos, read the news, connect with family and friends, or listen to music and fascinating podcasts. I don't want to see threats of violence made against people on these platforms, and I assume the vast majority of the people on these platforms don't, either. Jones' lawyer has said in court, under oath, that Jones is a "performance artist playing a character" when he's on the air or creating videos, and that he doesn't necessarily believe everything he tells his loyal followers. But the persona he's chosen is one that enjoys telling his followers the parents of dead children are faking their grief. It's a persona that warns the same listeners that they should arm themselves against Americans they disagree with. It's a persona that believes Muslims kill and rape people as "part of their culture" and one that claims "proof" exists former first lady Michelle Obama is a man. These "views," as Cruz so innocently described them, are interrupted most frequently by advertisements for various snake oil supplements that Jones sells to his gullible followers as he amasses a small fortune.

If users of these platforms are lucky, the crackdown will go beyond just Jones. It will extend to any person or fraudulent news organization who violates clear community standards by calling for violence against a person or group of people, by brazenly lying about minority groups to incite hate, or by otherwise leveraging these platforms for something most of the other users on that platform can recognize as being unequivocally bad. Defenders of Jones will claim his free speech is being violated and we should "fight bad ideas with better ones." Of course, it's that very attitude that allowed Jones to grow into the influential, wealthy and popular figure he is today, despite the fact he gained that influence and wealth by lying, disparaging people and conning his followers. And he's still free to do that however he'd like, so long as he's not doing it on the platforms that helped elevate him.

Jones is just the first casualty of increased pressure on these platforms to police the way users can leverage their power for malicious reasons. We'd all be better off if he isn't the last. 

Cover image via Brooks Kraft/ Getty Images.

More From A Plus

GET SOME POSITIVITY IN YOUR INBOX

Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest news and exclusive updates.