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.