This past Monday, controversial right wing media company, Infowars, was removed from Apple, Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, Youtube, and Spotify. While many onlookers have applauded these companies for striking down such an inflammatory and often ill informed news station, others, like myself, remain wary of the precedent this may set moving forward. I wholeheartedly disagree with Infowars’ agenda, ideology, and methods, but removing its voice entirely could prove counterintuitive to eventually closing the ideological divide in our country.
Let me be clear here: I am in no way defending Alex Jones or anything he stands for on his platform, I’m simply defending his right to exist in a society with free press.
Before diving into my reluctant justification for Infowars’ existence, I should first explain why so many people have taken issue with Jones and demanded his removal. Starting in the mid 1990’s, Alex Jones began working as a field journalist for Austin Public Access television. Jones’ radical government conspiracy theories and ideas on the program eventually gained him a cult following in the region. Once Jones gained traction and legitimacy as one of the world’s most renowned conspiracy theorists, he founded Infowars, an internationally syndicated media platform he used to further his agenda. On Infowars, Jones was scrutinized for claiming the Sandy Hook massacre of 2012 was a hoax, 9/11 was an inside job carried out by the government, and globalist elites controlled every aspect of society around the world.
While Jones never directly threatened to harm or attack victims of 9/11 or the Sandy Hook massacre, his rhetoric inspired waves of his loyal supporters to send hateful, violent, and threatening messages to those affected by the tragedies. According to the New York Times “In the five years since (victim) 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.” (NYTimes). Despite being just one anecdotal example of the damage Jones’ rhetoric has caused, this instance perfectly illustrates the bigger picture: Alex Jones’ influence is both undeniable and undeniably used irresponsibly. But does this justify completely scrubbing his existence from the internet?
To answer this question, we need to examine the treatment of similar controversial media companies that lean towards opposing values from Jones. This will help us determine if Infowars’ removal was a justified strike against a dangerous platform, or an example of powerful internet platforms claiming moral high ground and suppressing differing political ideologies.
Admittedly, I had difficulty finding a left wing pundit as abrasive and unapologetic as Jones. Leftwing newscasters like Keith Olbermann, The Young Turks, and Rachel Maddow have often proven to be hyperbolic, dismissive, and somewhat condescending towards opposing political viewpoints, but they mostly base their opinions on facts, statistics, and generally realistic assessments of each situation. The closest personality equivalency I could find to Alex Jones was Reverend Al Sharpton. Al Sharpton used divisive tactics centered around race and marched to perpetuate violence during the 1991 Crown Heights riots. But Al Sharpton never abused the truth. Sharpton has also enjoyed a multi-decade career of relatively credible mainstream news analysis and continued activism in the face of racial injustice and police brutality. A stark shift from his earlier more extreme methods of activism.
Of course there are radical, often unfounded, opinions held by both political parties, but Alex Jones simply overstepped his boundaries. Jones irresponsibly used his platform to popularize baseless conspiracies that incited violence, heightened political tensions, and indirectly caused harm and distress to innocent victims of tragedy. I value our freedom of speech and freedom of press as much as anyone and I believe civil discourse should always predate censorship, but Alex Jones acted irresponsibly for too long and earned his spot on the blacklist. Whether or not Jones being censored will help mend the ideological schism and distrust in the media in the U.S. is yet to be seen, but it certainly feels like a step in the right direction.