OPINION: Internet Censorship is Damaging Our Culture

Avery Klatsky, Senior Editor

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In early August, several major technology outlets (namely Apple, Facebook, YouTube, Spotify and Vimeo) banned conspiracy theorist and face of Infowars, Alex Jones. Jones, as well as several of Infowars’ podcast episodes, social media accounts and articles were banned because they violated the platform’s “hate speech” policies. These dicey policies damage the social fabric of the country, and social media platforms should not ban individuals for engaging in free speech.

The problem with banning people on the internet because of said hate speech is that there is no objective term of what that means.

According to an article from Politifact, Facebook defines hate speech as “a direct attack on people based on what we call protected characteristics — race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, caste, sex, gender, gender identity, and serious disease or disability.” YouTube has a similar “standard,” and Twitter’s hateful conduct policy is almost identical to that of Facebook’s.

By the same metric, Alex Jones is no saint. As the head of Infowars, he has said outrageous things, from suggesting that the 9/11 terrorist attack was an “inside job” carried out by the U.S. government to former U.S. President Barack Obama having “weather weapons” to create natural disasters.

Alex Jones should not be banned from the internet, but rather fact checked and questioned online for his outrageous comments.

Though Jones is an extreme provocateur who is not a solid representation of the conservative movement, Infowars getting “the boot” is due to a large crackdown on conservative and right-of-center thought. For example, PragerU, which makes short, informational videos on a variety of topics with a bevy of political speakers (both liberal and conservative), has been banned on YouTube several times. Steven Crowder, a conservative commentator, has been shadowbanned on numerous occasions on both Twitter and YouTube. Even Dave Rubin, who considers himself a left-leaning classical liberal, has had his videos demonetized due to the fact that he’s willing to engage in open dialogue with commentators from economist Thomas Sowell to psychology professor Jordan Peterson.

Major social media companies should not ban people for engaging in what they believe is “hate speech.” With that said, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram all have the right to do as they please, as they are all private companies, and the government should have no place in intervening in such issues regardless of how controversial Alex Jones’ comments are. However, Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey shouldn’t claim that their companies are platforms for free speech when they ban people for having opinions that lie outside “the norm.” If they truly stood for free speech, they wouldn’t ban people for being “offensive.”

People will tend to suggest that censorship online is meant to protect people’s feelings. This, however, is nonsense. The court of public opinion should be the judge of speech, instead of suggesting that the social media companies themselves should act as the moral arbiter in whether or not opinions are worthwhile.

It’s also worth noting that banning speech on online platforms isn’t even an effective way to silence speech. After Jones was banned from the internet, the Infowars app skyrocketed to the fourth most popular news app on Apple’s app store.

A healthy society is a society that analyzes a wide variety of opinions and ideas, not silencing them. Major social media companies should not censor people for having differing viewpoints, even if people like Alex Jones often say ridiculous things. Instead, companies like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook should promote free speech, dialogue and conversation on their platforms.

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