“I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death, your right to say it”
— often attributed to Voltaire
Over the weekend, Apple, Spotify, YouTube and Facebook removed content produced by Alex Jones and his website InfoWars. Some commentators have praised the decision, others question it. The InfoWars app continues availability in the Apple and Google app stores, where its downloads are booming. As of this writing, the app jumped from obscurity on the Apple App Store, to the number 4 news app, behind the New York Times (#1), but ahead of both CNN (#5) and FoxNews (#6).
For those of you who don’t know, Alex Jones made a name for himself in the 1990s with videos like “Prison Planet” and discussions of UN troops in America. Of course Art Bell and George Noory made names for themselves discussing even more far out topics like time travelers, rods from space and aliens among us. No one has suggested a ban on Art Bell, George Noory, or the show they made famous: Coast-to-Coast AM. But then Coast-to-Coast always maintains a positive attitude and Alex Jones frequently gets very angry ranting against his topic of choice.
I think the bottom line regarding Jones and the tech giants is that private companies have the right to set restrictions on the content they distribute. So, no I’m not going to praise or condemn Facebook and YouTube for removing Jones. I generally find his shows detestable, so I don’t tune to his radio broadcast or stream his videos. I don’t like him, so I turn him off. I don’t call for him to be silenced. And when someone cites him favorably in discussion, I generally walk away and talk to someone else.
But here’s the question of the day: do we want the online portals and platforms we rely on for news to curate our available news sources according to the political views of company executives?
I’d like to think I’d be just as upset, if a conservative tech company banned Melissa Harris Perry or Rachel Maddow. Fox News generally maintains a roster of liberal leaning co-hosts like Juan Williams, Geraldo Rivera and Alan Colmes (before cancer). Glen Beck generally doesn’t hire left leaning hosts for The Blaze. But I don’t want an echo chamber, so I also read BBC, the UK Guardian, and NPR — even the New York Times. I seek out many views. We should all seek out many views.
This marks another reason why I’ll spend less time on Facebook: I now have to spend more time seeking out a plurality of views on the topics I care about. But I’m not so mad that I’m going to trade in my iPhone for a Windows phone, or swap Siri for Alexa.
Opinions expressed in this piece are my own and should not be confused with those of my employers, the University of Texas, the Texas National Guard, the U. S. Army or any other institution with its own public affairs department.