“Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is so racist, homophobic and xenophobic that Apple, Facebook, Spotify, Twitter and YouTube banned him and his show InfoWars from their sites in 2018. But now he’s returned to Facebook with multiple new pages and the social-media giant has allowed him to resume profiting off lies and hate.”
This week Free Press launched a petition calling on Facebook to ban Alex Jones, a petition that’s already gained thousands of signatures. We’ve also been flooded with reactions from detractors and racist trolls.
Let’s set the record straight:
Free Press is 100% committed to fighting for free speech — but we want freedom of speech for all.
Free speech for some isn’t really free speech
Freedom of speech has never been fully extended to people of color in the United States. Since this country’s founding, powerful White people have used their unfettered access to freedom of speech to legitimize exploitation and suffering. When people of color have spoken up to resist and affirm their own dignity, they have routinely faced violent backlash and stark consequences.
You don’t have to look far into the past for plenty of examples: Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Khan-Cullors frequently receives death threats online when she exercises her free-speech rights. Immigrant-rights activists and others working for racial and gender justice are often subjected to coordinated attacks.
Even those working outside the context of activism, like comedian Leslie Jones, contend with hostility on online platforms or are attacked in real life simply due to their race, gender, religion or sexual identity.
At the end of 2018, we saw a spate of hate crimes that were influenced or organized online: A White man murdered two Black grandparents in a Kentucky grocery store while another White man murdered 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue. Another mailed over a dozen bombs to high-profile critics of President Trump.
For his part, Alex Jones dabbles in more than just hateful invective. As we wrote in our message to activists earlier this week:
“Jones is the Pizzagate conspiracy theorist who in 2016 claimed a gay-owned Washington, D.C. pizzeria was host to a child sex ring — inspiring one of his followers to shoot up the place with an AR-15 rifle. Jones is also behind the lie that parents who lost their children in the Sandy Hook elementary-school shooting are paid actors, subjecting those grieving parents to death threats and physical confrontations.”
Jones has repeatedly violated the terms of service of these platforms with his threats and racist vitriol. While he’s free to set up his own website or stand on a street corner, he has no special right to algorithmic amplification. And companies like Facebook have a responsibility to protect their users.
Kicking him off the platform was — and still is — the right thing to do.
Changing the terms
This isn’t just about Alex Jones. More and more, internet platforms are being used to normalize, fund and foment White-supremacist conspiracies and violence.
Companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter have a moral duty to address this and the harm it causes their users. That’s why we’re calling on Facebook to ban Alex Jones — and we’re calling on all of Big Tech to #ChangeTheTerms by adopting model corporate policies to disrupt hateful activities on their platforms.
The good news is that many companies are already addressing the spread of hateful content on their sites. Our campaign alongside more than 50 other groups seeks to bring more transparency, due process and accountability to content-moderation processes. We recommend that these companies show how and why they’re removing content, institute clear-appeals processes for those wrongly taken down, and demonstrate more accountability to all of their users.
Digital-cross burnings must end
In a bygone era, anonymous terrorists regularly left burning crosses on the front lawns of Black people in the American South. The intent was to silence their activism with the threat of physical harm.
Today’s “burning crosses” are online waves of hateful vitriol, activated by racist troll armies — with the same chilling intentions and effects.
Just this week, a Vermont prosecutor declined to file charges against the man who organized a year-long campaign of online harassment that forced the state’s lone African American legislator, Kiah Morris, to resign from office.
The prosecutor cited the harasser’s “freedom of speech.” But what about Morris’ speech rights?
It’s time to reevaluate how we think about free speech. That means disrupting the spread of hate, and also stopping Facebook and other mega-platforms from abusing their power to silence dissenting voices that aren’t trafficking in hate and violence.
The bottom line: Free Press does not condone government censorship. The Change the Terms campaign — and our call to ban Alex Jones — has nothing to do with government restriction of free speech, which is what the First Amendment prohibits.
Quite the contrary, we believe that people deserve a media system that’s open, affordable, democratic and safe for people of color and others who stand up for justice. In the end, communication tools both old and new are just that — tools that can be used to liberate or to oppress. We can’t allow a tradition of Whites-only freedom of speech to define the future.
We’re fighting for media that reflect our future. And that means media, and free-speech rights, for all of us.