It was widely reported that Facebook, Apple, YouTube and Spotify removed content from right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his Infowars network from their platforms.
Jones peddled the bizarre theories that the tragic shootings in 2012 at Sandy Hook were a hoax and that Hillary Clinton's campaign staff ran a child-sex ring out of a pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C. He is a morally repugnant windbag and I don't want to listen to him. But I do want to live in a country where he can spout his nonsense and be seen and dismissed for the detestable jackass he is.
Removing Jones' content from big tech platforms lends credibility to his narrative about a left-wing conspiracy to silence him and other conservatives. The Infowars homepage Monday offered the following dire warning: "The war on your mind is in full swing as globalists remove outlets of liberty and truth, starting with the tip of the spear: Alex Jones."
Furthermore, there is the risk of banning Jones and then falling further down the slippery slope of censorship. Once private censorship by tech giants begins, where will it end? I find much of what conservative radio host Mark Levin has to say needlessly hateful, divisive and offensive--ditto for Samantha Bee at times. But I don't want them removed from social media.
The censorship danger is great because big tech companies have unprecedented power to control the distribution of information in society, and they respond quickly to public pressure. Vox reported that the bans came "after mounting public backlash against Infowars' pernicious rhetoric." We won't have a free and robust marketplace of ideas if those who control the flow of information silence whoever they are pressured to silence whenever they are pressured to do so.
Banning Jones and his ilk from major social platforms could also ultimately drive them underground, where it would be harder to track the mischief they are up to.
Finally, we are all big boys and girls and can decide for ourselves whom to listen to. We should have the confidence in our discretion that President John Kennedy praised in a speech in 1962: "We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies, and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people."
Communications technology has changed a great deal since Benjamin Franklin was publisher of the Pennsylvania Gazette, but the principle underlying his apology in 1731 to those who were angry with him "on the Account of printing things they don't like" remains valid: "That if all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed."
Joseph Holt is an ethics professor at the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business.
Editorial on 08/10/2018
Print Headline: Let the windbags speak