Alex Jones is the fella who said Sandy Hook was a hoax. I do not care if private companies like Facebook don’t want such obvious libel and slander on their sites. But as David French argues in the New York Times, social media is banning him for a different reason, and it’s not a good idea:
So on Monday, when Apple, Facebook and YouTube acted — in seemingly coordinated fashion — to remove the vast bulk of Mr. Jones’s content from their sites, there’s no cause for worry, right? After all, this was an act of necessary public hygiene. A terrible human being who has no regard for truth or decency is finally getting what he deserves.
Would that it were that simple.
There are reasons to be deeply concerned that the tech companies banned Alex Jones. In short, the problem isn’t exactly what they did, it’s why they did it.
Rather than applying objective standards that resonate with American law and American traditions of respect for free speech and the marketplace of ideas, the companies applied subjective standards that are subject to considerable abuse. Apple said it “does not tolerate hate speech.” Facebook accused Mr. Jones of violating policies against “glorifying violence” or using “dehumanizing language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims and immigrants.” YouTube accused Mr. Jones of violating policies against “hate speech and harassment.”
These policies sound good on first reading, but they are extraordinarily vague. We live in times when the slightest deviation from the latest and ever-changing social justice style guide is deemed bigoted and, yes, “dehumanizing.” We live in a world where the Southern Poverty Law Center, a formerly respected civil-rights organization, abuses its past trust to label a host of mainstream organizations (including my former employer, the Alliance Defending Freedom) and individuals as “hate groups,” “white nationalists” or “anti-Muslim extremists,” based sometimes on disagreements about theology or sexual morality or sometimes on outright misreadings and misrepresentations of an individual’s beliefs and views.
Exhibit A of how wrong the center has been: In June, it paid Maajid Nawaz $3.375 million for labeling him an “anti-Muslim extremist.” This is rich, considered Mr. Nawaz is a former Islamist turned Muslim reformer.
Maajod Nawaz is the co-author, with Sam Harris, of a book I recently read and recommend: Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue. Nawaz is no more an anti-Muslim extremist than I am an alt-right Trumpalo. Nawaz is part of the solution: a Muslim actively trying to rid Islam of Islamism and extremism. He’s the very guy that critics of Islam are always clamoring for: where are the people condemning extremism from within? But to the same New York Times in which French writes, the SPLC is still an Authority. And the New York Times will use the concept of hate speech in a one-sided fashion: employing an anti-white racist on their editorial page even as they cite an SPLC that denounces reformers like Nawaz as extremists.
French says: sure, get rid of Alex Jones for his slander. Not his “hate speech.” That’s how First Amendment jurisprudence deals with bad actors, and while it’s not required for private companies, it’s a good model.
What I don’t agree with is the “let’s terrorize them with government” approach that even Ted Cruz has taken lately, suggesting that we break up the big social media companies because they’re big. Like it or not, they’re successful because people like them and use them. Don’t take away freedom of choice just because the companies are predictably leftist in their bent. Criticize and compete. That’s the American way.
[Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.]