Thoughts on Censorship …

I applauded the recent banning of Alex Jones and his InfoWars program by a number of social media outlets, notably Facebook, YouTube, Apple and Spotify.  Twitter has resisted the call by the media and politicians to ban Jones, saying that thus far he is not in violation of their terms of service.  Makes one wonder if they even have ‘terms of service’, doesn’t it? I noted this in a recent post, and a reader replied that he disliked censorship in any form and was perfectly capable of deciding what to see or not to see.  Which made me start pondering … again … sigh.

Alex Jones’ hate-filled lies and rhetoric pose a very real danger.  After his lies about Sandy Hook, families who had lost their children in that tragedy were threatened by people who listened to and believed Jones.  One family has had to move 7 times since 2012 in order to protect their remaining children from harm.  Words have very real consequences.

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, but is it an absolute guarantee to unfettered and irresponsible speech?  I think not.  There are a few restrictions on free speech, as have been noted before, such as yelling “FIRE!!!” in a theater full of people, or “BOMB!!!” on an airplane.  It is the opinion of this writer that those restrictions are not enough.  With the privilege, or ‘right’ to free speech comes responsibility, and if we do not accept the responsibility, then we lose the right.

In a perfect world, it would be lovely to allow everyone complete and unrestricted free speech, but we do not live in a perfect world.  We live in a world where a percentage of the population is under-educated and will believe whomever yells the loudest.  We live in a world where ignorance abounds and there are those who delight in scandal, juicy gossip, and conspiracy theories.  This is the crowd that Alex Jones, Sean Hannity, Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobiec play to, the audience they can rile and incite to a frenzy.  This is not harmless entertainment, but more than once has led to violence and the threat of violence.

Censorship is a slippery slope.  Where do you draw the line?  Who decides where the line gets drawn?  I can well understand my reader’s concerns about censorship, for it would be all too easy for it to be taken too far.  But simply because something is hard, or is likely to offend some, doesn’t mean you shelve the notion.  To those who would argue against any degree of censorship, my response is that if people would think for themselves, learn to read between the lines, ask questions and be discerning, then we wouldn’t need to censor.  People like Alex Jones would be out doing real jobs to earn their living instead of feeding off the remains of the ignorant, for there would be no market for his brand of hate.

There is an argument that ‘censorship’ can only be applied to government, not private enterprise.  Again, it’s a slippery slope, and there is the potential for censorship by private companies to lead to discrimination against entire groups such as minorities or LGBT people.  This, too, must be carefully considered, for the potential lies just under the surface, waiting to bubble up in a nasty mess of bigotry and racism.

Facebook and the rest who have banned Jones have done so, not out of good conscience, but because the hue and cry against Jones was loud enough to get their attention and they saw visions of dollar signs flying away.  My guess is that once the brouhaha dies down, they will let ol’ Alex back in again, albeit quietly.  It is said that the InfoWars website gets some 10 million views per month.  More than 300 thousand people every day tune in to listen to an ugly man spew lies, filth and hatred.  This, folks, is what is wrong in society.  And because at least some of those 300 thousand people will believe Jones and then decide to take the law into their own gun-filled hands, I’m so sorry, but yes, we do need to censor this type of speech.

It is critical that decisions regarding any form of censorship be made by wise and well-informed people, people without a political agenda, people who are open-minded, fair and honest.  Where do we find such people?  NOT in the halls of government, but rather in think tanks and academia, I should think.  Certainly people with self-interest and the motivation of money, such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, are not qualified to sit on the panel.

Again, the reason we need censorship is the same reason that we need sensible gun regulations:  responsibility.  When a large portion of this nation refuses to step up to the plate and act as responsible citizens, placing the value of human lives above their own desires, when they refuse to ‘self-police’, then there need to be regulations.  Such regulations must be fair and invoke common sense, but they must exist.  Even some of the most democratic nations in the world have both gun laws and hate speech laws, and so must we.  Your thoughts?

Note to Readers in Response to Comments:

Dear Readers …

So many of you adamantly spoke against any form or degree of censorship, that I decided to respond to your comments collectively, rather than individually.

My goal with this post was to express my opinion and hopefully get some interesting dialog started.  I found, interestingly, that my friends from across the pond agreed that some degree and type of limitation on free speech is both necessary and desirable, while the majority of my U.S. friends are dead set against any limitation on the 1st Amendment. 

For those who believe that hate speech laws in other countries are typically used to silence opposition, I respectfully disagree, having over the years become friends with people from the Netherlands, Austria, Germany, and the UK, all of whom agree that the laws in their countries that make Nazi symbols and speech that is intended to incite violence, such as Alex Jones’ are fair and just laws and do not interfere with ordinary and responsible free speech.  This article in The Atlantic, written by a citizen of the Netherlands who now lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, tells the story from across the pond.  Remember that Europe has a much more direct link to the Nazis and Hitler, and are thus, perhaps, more sensitive to that sort of hate speech than we in the U.S.  

One reader said ‘goodbye’ to me over this post, which is certainly her prerogative, but does nothing to further civil discourse, but rather shuts down any attempt to see each other’s point of view.

As I tried, but obviously failed, to convey in my post, I do not like censorship either.  BUT … even less, I like that which endangers innocent human lives.  In my opinion, Alex Jones ought to be sitting behind bars for his role in inciting people to make threats against others.  Those who made the threats should be sitting right next to him in that prison cell.  Instead, they all run free while innocent people whose children were killed have to change their phone numbers and addresses to keep their families safe.  This is where I run into an ethical problem with unlimited free speech, and I sincerely believe that the framers of the Constitution, the Founding Fathers as we often refer to them, would be horrified at what is today protected as “free speech”. 

I sincerely do appreciate all the comments today, and have spent quite a bit of time pondering them and debating how to best respond to your opinions.  I certainly agree that this is a slippery slope, and not one to be taken lightly, but I must stand by my opinion that there simply MUST be consequences for falsehoods and speech that puts people’s lives and livelihoods in danger, for otherwise we are on a path toward anarchy, and humans have proven themselves incapable of handling unlimited freedom, I think.

57 thoughts on “Thoughts on Censorship …

  1. Jill, this note should be read in tandem with the note of congratulations on your 8th blogging anniversary. Censorship is a slippery slope in a democracy, but with the inability to judge the veracity of hate speech and blatant lying, some guardrails are necessary.

    Using Mr. Jones as an example, his blatant lying has caused death threats to the parents who lost their children at Sandy Hook. When asked to apologize, he doubled down. He also led to the arrest of a man who believed his story that Hillary Clinton was running a child porn ring from a DC pizza parlor. The man showed up at the parlor with weapons to save the children.

    That is calling fire in a theater. People need to know Jones is a menace to society. He gives actually news people a bad name.

    Keith

    Liked by 2 people

    • I completely agree. When threatening people’s lives and livelihoods, freedom of speech has gone too far. And you know what? If you or I did the same, we would be thrown in jail in a heartbeat, so why should Mr. Jones be above the law?

      Like

  2. I often censor myself when I, (OOPS! WAIT A MINUTE.). Sorry, I had a much longer comment to write but I…….Damn it! There I go again. Now, if I can just finish with what I was about to…….AAAAAHHHH!!!! I wish like hell I’d stop cutting myself off like this!!!! OK, here’s what I wanted to say:………………Oh, for Christ’s sake! I did it again! I censored myself! This is aggravating. I’m just going to say this then:……………….oh, never mind…:D

    Liked by 2 people

  3. For those who believe that hate speech laws in other countries are typically used to silence opposition, I respectfully disagree

    No, these laws are used to silence critics of Islam. Fact, not speculation. This has happened in the Netherlands, France, and Italy, at least. People who never threatened or harassed anyone have had charges filed against them for expressing opinions, and in some cases been fined. If we had such laws here I’d be personally under threat from them because of views I’ve expressed on my blog.

    And as I pointed out before, such laws wouldn’t do anything about Alex Jones. What he does is defamation and harassment, not hate speech as normally defined. We already have laws against defamation and harassment and they can be made stronger. But don’t call for “hate speech” laws which target people like me, not him.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for that “Note to readers”.

    I’m undecided on this one. I grew up in Australia, where there were some limitation on speech. But they were not onerous. However, now an American, I do see free speech as something very distinctive about America and as a core part of our national identity. And I worry about how someone like Donald Trump would abuse any ability to restrict free speech.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s just it … there is a very fine line between the right and its abuse, and Trump has encouraged the abuse multiple times. I fear it can only get worse if some constraints aren’t put into effect. Remember Charlottesville? Sigh.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Dear Jill,

    I align myself more with Robert Vella’s opinion but I’m open to adjusting my thinking on this subject. Mr Jones in my opinion is being blocked because he has done the equivalent of yelling fire in a crowded theater. He has caused real harm where peoples have had to flee for their safety and peace of mind. Those media sites that dropped him did what was right for them if they didn’t want to be part of a suit or suffer a form of boycotting because of consumers’ anger.

    On the flip side, it is sites like Spotify, Google and Facebook that made a success out of Alex Jones. This is an issue that needs to be discussed and ironed out because there will be more Alex Jones who make monies out of making decent people’s lives more miserable after they have already suffered an unbelievable trauma..

    Hugs, Gronda

    Liked by 2 people

    • I did sort of a ‘response to all’ in the Note to Readers, Gronda, for there were so many good points, and so many in-depth comments that I thought that made more sense than individual responses this time. Hugs!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I, somewhat regrettably, must admit to being divided on the issue of censorship. Many of the comments here contain valid points for and against it. The “who” doing the censoring and the “why” something is being censored poses possible problems for anyone not in the “who” group, never mind the “why”. Alex Jones can be banned from many sites and while he certainly has earned it, I doubt that this will not stop him or those like him. I must do more research before reaching a firm choice in regards to censorship. Thank-you!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Jill, this is obviously a controversial issue. Censorship is authoritarian, and authoritarianism is undemocratic. Twitter has also banned former state department official Peter Van Buren who is outspokenly anti-war (see: https://contraryperspective.com/2018/08/08/i-have-been-permanently-banned-from-twitter/ ). Indeed, drawing that fine line between what is acceptable and unacceptable is an impossible task.

    I think a better approach would be focusing instead on the legal precedents which can hold a person accountable for expressing their free speech rights. Typically, this involves the intent to incite violence or to cause destruction. The popularized metaphor falsely yelling “fire!” in a crowded theater is a good example.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. There are far too many possibilities when it comes to censorship, but I agree with you that something needs to be done about hateful and racist comments. Words do hurt, whether we want them to or not. Helping younger people to understand the demons of hate speech is probably the best way to fight it, except that nuclear families make it possible for some families to teach their chilren hatred and racism. Responsibility is not something a large percentage of parents care about. This is why I firmly believe nuclear families need to be changed. No one will ever convince me differently.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Strangely or not? My comments were censored? Hehe

    Jill.
    Sorry to disagree about censorship. For it becomes the thin edge of the wedge, for authority. Next thing you know, its a totalitarian state. How do you pick out those who are censored? I would like to censor many things. The lies and
    deceits of governments? Main Stream Media that pumps out the lies for profit. USS Liberty for example. Google that and it is but the tip of an iceberg.

    We have to learn individual discrimination. Develop our own morality. Keep learning and interested in subjects found boring.

    Alex Jones? Remember that furry creature’s behind? That’s how much I care. People like Mr. Jones exist because of what and how, he says something. I have watched his shows yet do not feel convinced by much of what is said. The manner in which it is delivered is often abrasive and personally have only so much use, for the presentation? As I have for the host. That is not the point.

    Apparently it is okay for sovereign nations go around now, invading other sovereign counties and tossing bombs killing civilians, without warning or provocation. Why can’t we the people, censure governments at the time? Rhetorical question.

    Mark Twain once wrote, that you cannot legislate morality; and I believe that, to be a true statement.
    Cheers Jamie

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Quote: “In a perfect world, it would be lovely to allow everyone complete and unrestricted free speech,”  Jill, in a perfect world, no one would use free speech in hate, or with malice aforethought to cause harm and loss to others, so there would be no problem with total free speech since it would always be used in sending healing thoughts out of compassion.  We do not live in a perfect world, but how many people realize that we could, if we wanted to? A matter of will. Why is evil more popular than “good” is my question today.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. “Hate speech” laws in other democracies have consistently been used to punish expression of opinions that ruling parties dislike, such as criticism of religious extremism. They are essentially the same as blasphemy laws. The fact that someone is telling the truth is no defense. I’d very likely be endangered by such laws if I were writing my blog in Canada or the Netherlands. Fortunately, the US has the First Amendment which provides more robust protections for freedom of expression (Oregon’s state constitution has even stronger protections).

    “Hate speech” laws like those other countries have wouldn’t even do anything about someone like Alex Jones. The proper way to deal with someone like him is through laws against defamation and harassment, not “hate speech” laws which criminalize opinions.

    The best way to consider such laws is to remember that it might not be you and people like you who get to define what constitutes “hate speech”. What if such laws banned telling the truth about Christianity or Republicans, the way they ban telling the truth about Islam in the Middle East and some European countries? That’s actually very plausible in our current situation if the First Amendment didn’t exist. Trump and his supporters constantly attack the media and call for restrictions on expressing opinions they don’t like.

    The proper answer to bad speech is good speech, not silencing the bad speech. When all views can be openly expressed, the truth will eventually win out. The side that wan’t to ban people from saying things is the side that knows it can’t win an honest argument. Censorship is the tool of the priest and the dictator.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    Thoughts on Alex Jones and censorship … ‘The reason we need censorship is the same reason that we need sensible gun regulations: responsibility. Even some of the most democratic nations in the world have both gun laws and hate speech laws, and so must we.’
    I’m so glad he’s off the air … can’t deny that!!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. In my book anyone who supports The SandyHook conspiracy has lost any rights to speaking in public. With freedom comes responsibility. Simple as that. For once I have to tip my hat to the Power of the Commercial Market which shut the little rat down better than any law……Err yea Capitalism?

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree … for the lives he has put in jeopardy, Alex Jones should be sitting in a prison cell. I cannot applaud capitalism on this one, though, for it wasn’t conscience that made it happen, but greed. And I’m betting money that once things die down, he will be back on the air. Funny thing, I saw today that his InfoWars app has gone viral now … people cannot seem to get to it fast enough. Which is more of a sad statement about our society than about Jones himself. If there weren’t a market for his brand of hate, he’d be digging ditches. Personally, I would love to see him in an orange jumpsuit and leg shackles picking up trash alongside the highway! Me? Cruel? 😈

      Liked by 1 person

      • Cruel Jill?
        By MY standards that is mollycoddling! Letting him out in the fresh air and sunshine…Ha!
        Now my idea would be…..
        Must stop now…..My Inner ‘Punisher’ (see Marvel Comics)…or Netflix is whispering to me…..
        Or the ghost of an Inquisitor……
        Or a KGB officer…
        No must sop now!!
        I’m gonna volunteer to wash up the dishes (it’s 10pm hereabouts)

        Liked by 1 person

        • Ah, but Roger … think of his total and utter humiliation when his former followers, his former worshipers drive by laughing hysterically, blowing their horn and tossing some more trash into the ditchline for him to pick up!

          Yes, Roger … you go wash the dishes and give Sheila a break! How’s the book coming? I haven’t seen Karlyn about lately … you didn’t lock her in a closet, did you?

          Liked by 1 person

          • Nah, if he is seen he becomes a martyr to the cause…don’t forget we’re talking Conspiracy Kooks here.
            The most charitable thing I would do is lock him away, remove all official references to him and make it policy to mock those who mention this ‘urban myth’ character who never really existed.
            The Communists were quite adept at the art of making the ‘non-person’ .
            Lock Karlyn in a closet!?!🤕 ….😸HAH!…I care for my body y’know! Nope she’s about alive and well, but a bit ‘humphy’ with me at the moment because I threw a bit of plot into the re-write which she wasn’t expecting and has had to go away and think about it….Well they’ve been having it easy pushing me about and telling me what to do.
            🤨

            Liked by 1 person

  14. Censorship need not be taken too far. What is important is to make sure that hate speech aimed at minorities does not have the chance to agitate or encourage a listener to make threats against them. That even includes the Christian church by other groups and the Christian church towards other groups for whom they have little tolerance. They in particular must remember to live and let live.
    Cwtch.

    Liked by 1 person

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