Apple, Facebook, Spotify, and YouTube's decision to ban right-wing shock jock Alex Jones and his media site, Infowars, from their platforms in early August has reignited a debate about what, if any, obligations these companies have to provide access to ideologically diverse users in the name of free speech. Twitter came under enormous criticism for refusing to go along, but on Tuesday announced that they were suspending Jones's account for one week [rollingstone.com] due to violations of its rules. Jones was banned after years of public outrage over lies spread by Infowars, including the infamous "Pizzagate [esquire.com]" conspiracy and the false claim that the Sandy Hook shooting, in which 26 elementary school children and staff members were killed, was a hoax. Jones is also known for tirades against Muslims, immigrants, and transgender people.
Some critics have claimed that, given the monopoly-like power that Silicon Valley giants now exert over the internet, encouraging them to regulate content based on ideology, hate speech, or arbitrations of "truth" and "falsity" will jeopardize internet freedom and vest a handful of corporate executives too much control over it. But others have defended the choice to ban Jones, citing the anti-hate speech rules and nonviolence policies almost universally adopted by major internet platforms. Because terms of service are open to interpretation [rollingstone.com] — "hate speech," for example, can be difficult to define — there is a significant risk that standards will be inconsistently applied. The ambiguous policies also present a threat to controversial speech from the left — think, for example, of speech related to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, or expressive speech about bad cops [cbsnews.com] or white men [vox.com].
Twitter had been heavily [vox.com] criticized [theverge.com] in [theverge.com] the [adweek.com] days [slate.com] following a Aug. 8 statement [twitter.com] by CEO Jack Dorsey explaining that Alex Jones [wikipedia.org] and InfoWars [wikipedia.org] had not been banned because they had not violated Twitter's rules.
Taibbi: Beware the Slippery Slope of Facebook Censorship [archive.org]:
Many of the banned pages look like parodies of some paranoid bureaucrat's idea of dangerous speech. A page called "Black Elevation" shows a picture of Huey Newton and offers readers a job. "Aztlan Warriors" contains a meme celebrating the likes of Geronimo and Zapata, giving thanks for their service in the "the 500 year war against colonialism." And a banned "Mindful Being" page shared this, which seems culled from Jack Handey's [nbc.com] Deep Thoughts [nbc.com] bit: "We must unlearn what we have learned because a conditioned mind cannot comprehend the infinite." Facebook also wiped out a "No Unite The Right 2" page, appearing to advertise a counter-rally on the upcoming anniversary of the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Facebook was "helped" [fb.com] in its efforts to wipe out these dangerous memes by the Atlantic Council, on whose board [atlanticcouncil.org] you'll find confidence-inspiring names like Henry Kissinger, former CIA chief Michael Hayden, former acting CIA head Michael Morell [nbcnews.com] and former Bush-era Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff. (The latter is the guy who used to bring you the insane color-coded terror threat level system [wgbh.org].) These people now have their hands on what is essentially a direct lever over nationwide news distribution. It's hard to understate the potential mischief that lurks behind this union of Internet platforms and would-be government censors.
Deplatforming: does it work [vice.com]?