Facebook’s no stranger to controversy, with accusations of fake news, censorship, and misuse of data having hit the company hard recently.
The latest furore comes as the social media giant is accused, along with other Silicon Valley darlings, of a coordinated censorship campaign against controversial personality Alex Jones.
Now, think what you will about Alex Jones. He’s been accused of being a dangerous conspiracy theorist, and has championed some deeply problematic causes. But despite that, many argue that recent events represent a frightening campaign to silence him.
Overnight, four tech giants — Apple, Facebook, YouTube and Spotify — all banned Alex Jones’ Infowars news channel.
Facebook claimed that it removed Alex 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.’
But it’s interesting that these companies are now cracking down on Jones, after allowing him to publish for so many years. Facebook has previously faced severe criticism for hosting Jones’ pages, and defended the practice.
‘We believe banning these Pages would be contrary to the basic principles of free speech,’ Facebook posted in response to a question from CNN reporter Oliver Darcy, who had been pressing the company on why it continued to allow Infowars on its platform.
We can only speculate on why Facebook has turned 180 on publishing Alex Jones’ content. Though it has to be noted that Facebook has seen a year of being battered in the media for privacy violations and fake news, and losing more than 18% of its share value in a single day in late July. In light of that, Facebook may be less willing to champion free speech as it had before, and more likely to bend to political pressure.
Since the 2016 US election, the Gateway Pundit has found through traffic analysis that Facebook has eliminated 93% of traffic to top conservative websites.
It’s a case of chopping the head off a spear. For now, it’s only Alex Jones feeling the impedance of censorship, but what happens when it’s others.
‘We’ve been banned completely on Facebook, Apple, & Spotify,’ Jones wrote on Twitter. ‘What conservative news outlet will be next?’
As expected — Monday saw Alex Jones’s YouTube channel unavailable on site, with a notice that the account has ‘has been terminated for violating YouTube’s Community Guidelines.’ So too had the Infowars YouTube channel, labelled as terminated.
A slippery slope for freedom of speech
Brent Bozell, president of the non-profit Media research council, called the crackdown on Infowars a ‘slippery slope.’
‘[It’s] a dangerous cliff that these social media companies are jumping off to satisfy CNN and other liberal outlets.’
‘Social media sites are supposedly neutral platforms, but they are increasingly becoming opportunities for the left and major media to censor any content that they don’t like.’
Look, you may find some — or even most — of Alex Jones’ beliefs and causes ridiculous, offensive or dangerous. Many do. Jones is provocative, extreme, and a conspiracy theorist. But what’s even more ridiculous, offensive and dangerous is that idea of letting a small handful of gigantic corporations decide what news you and I can or can’t handle.
It’s easy to look the other way when someone like Alex Jones is silenced. But this sets a dangerous precedent that could creep into attacks against more and more innocuous news figures and news sources.
This is increasingly dangerous as, in today’s digital age, social media is the gateway to news. Recent surveys from Pew Research Center show that a large and growing percentage of society get most or all of their news through social media, either directly or by following links to news sites through their social feeds. This new technology has revolutionised the way we communicate and stay in touch with friends and loved ones. But as a centralised source for most or all of our news, social media is incredibly vulnerable to manipulation. Especially because we’re talking about only a handful of huge companies.
Here’s an idea, the solution to messages you disagree with isn’t to silence them. It’s to let them speak, and then reply. Or, if you think they’re too crazy to bother responding to…let them speak and reveal themselves for the crazies that they are.
If you silence someone, you only give them an air of legitimacy, by making it seem that you’re afraid of what they have to say.
It’s a classic mainstream media charge. It makes you, the reader, believe that anything other than mainstream media news is a lie. Which should put you on immediate guard.