Facebook, YouTube, and iTunes have kicked Alex Jones off of their platforms. If those editorial decisions had been based on the vileness of some of the ranting on InfoWars, they would have been in line with my decision here at Hogewash! to ignore Jones as much as possible. But they don’t seem to be. They seem to be based on appeasing a social media mob.
Apple, Alphabet, and Facebook are private companies and are entitled to make decisions about how they wish to operate. They may view banning InfoWars as a good business decision or as a proper moral act. However, as operators of large swaths of what has become the world’s public square, they have a moral responsibility to maximize access to the venues they operate. As American companies in that public square, they have a social (but not legal) responsibility to maximize free speech. If those responsibilities are at odds with their corporate goals, they should exit that part of the market.
A case can be reasonably argued that Alex Jones has overstepped the boundaries of free speech. Indeed, there are defamation lawsuits pending against him. Banning him for such defamation could be proper. Banning him for being politically incorrect might be legal, but it would likely be at odds with American society’s traditional support for free speech.
UPDATE—David French offers a better explanation of my points here (at the NYT of all places!).
Prof. Reynold’s offers these comments at Instapundit—
A few points: (1) This is absolutely the first stage in a coordinated plan to deplatform everyone on the right. It’s not really about Alex Jones at all. (2) Aside from its free-speech* implications, which are serious indeed, this also looks like an antitrust violation: Media companies, which compete with Jones for eyeballs, colluded to get other media companies to shut him down. Were I Jones, I’d file an antitrust suit. This is more than arguably conspiracy in restraint of trade (and possibly a conspiracy to deprive him of civil rights). (3) This is proof that we need to break up these big tech companies, which exercise way too much power via their near-monopolies. That they coordinate in the abuse of those monopolies only makes it clearer.
* Note that I say “free speech” and not “First Amendment.” The First Amendment only limits government, but “free speech” is — or at least until very recently was — a broader social value in favor of not shutting people up just because we don’t like their ideas or politics. As for the “private companies can do what they want,” well, that’s not the law, or the custom, and hasn’t been for a long time. It’s especially not true where the companies have, as these companies have, affirmatively represented to users and shareholders that they don’t discriminate based on viewpoints.
UPDATE 2—Jonah Goldberg adds this at NRO—
But part of the problem is that platforms such as Google, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc. operate almost like public utilities. Indeed that’s one of the ironies about the battle lines drawn over Alex Jones. As a broad generalization, the people who loved net neutrality, precisely because they want the Internet to be like a public utility, cheered Big Internet for banning Jones from its platforms. Meanwhile, many of the people who hated net neutrality were outraged by the idea that private companies could “censor” voices they didn’t like. A real public utility can’t deny services to customers just because it doesn’t like what they say or think.
One of the reasons I didn’t like net neutrality is that when you treat private enterprises like corporatist partners of the state, they become corporatist partners of the state. I don’t want the government to be invested in any private business for a host of reasons, not least among them: because the state will never stop attaching more strings to their symbiotic relationship. Another reason: Such public-private partnerships are problematic in any economic realm, but they are particularly pernicious when issues of political speech are involved. Also: They are inherently monopolistic insofar as the state becomes invested in the entities it controls and seeks to protect them from the creative destruction of the market. I want to live in a country where Google and Facebook can be rendered obsolete by something better, without the state rushing to their rescue.
When Italy adopted that sort of state corporatism, they called it Fascism.