Facebook, and some other platforms, have removed content from alt-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. This has caused a predictable reaction from bros who more or less share his alt-right worldview:
There are more tells here than a drunk guy playing poker for the first time pic.twitter.com/HfRnOHtFSu
— Scott Lemieux (@LemieuxLGM) August 6, 2018
As well as from some bros who claim not to:
But there’s a real obvious problem with crude slippery slope arguments, which is that Facebook is not an open forum and has never claimed to be. It explicitly bans hate speech, and it also bans other forms of speech (such as images of mere nudity) that are unquestionably protected by the First Amendment. Facebook, iTunes et al. are already curating speech; the only question is whether they will apply their pre-existing standards to Alex Jones. And, in addition, Facebook has to make decisions about what content to push and what not to push that are inevitably discretionary:
Social media companies choosing to blast Nazi content into timelines is as much a content decision as them… deciding not to do that.
— Charles Davis (@charliearchy) August 6, 2018
And, since Jones’s apologists keep framing this as some kind of personal grudge or garden-variety political disagreement, let’s be clear about the consequences of Jones knowingly promoting false conspiracy theories:
In the five years since Noah Pozner was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., death threats and online harassment have forced his parents, Veronique De La Rosa and Leonard Pozner, to relocate seven times. They now live in a high-security community hundreds of miles from where their 6-year-old is buried.
“I would love to go see my son’s grave and I don’t get to do that, but we made the right decision,” Ms. De La Rosa said in a recent interview. Each time they have moved, online fabulists stalking the family have published their whereabouts.
But don’t worry — Young Master Bragman of the Hamptons will get along very well!
Anyway, note that it’s far from obvious that Jones’s Sandy Hook conspiracy theories are protected by the First Amendment; there is a perfectly credible case that he is civilly liable. Why Facebook is required to promote them is very, very far from obvious.
There’s no question that monopolistic power in Silicon Valley is a problem. But bad high-school libertarian arguments are not the solution. Alex Jones does not have the inalienable right to access to platforms that don’t want to promote him.