Apple, Facebook, YouTube Take Down Infowars – Who Gets To Decide What Can Be Said Then?


That Apple gets to decide what is distributed upon iTunes seems entirely unremarkable. We do have this concept of private property, the people who own things get to decide what to do with them. The same goes for Facebook, YouTube and all the rest. So, if they don’t want the content, buh bye the content:

Within the past 24 hours, Apple, Facebook, and YouTube have all joined in summarily banning far-right broadcaster and known conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his Infowars network from their platforms.

Think of it as an exemplar, a celebration, of those private property rights.

It’s really nothing to do with the First Amendment:

It is the oldest cliché in free speech circles that “you cannot shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.” In other words, there are limits to free speech — even under the First Amendment.

In the theater analogy, it’s the risk of causing harm, not directly, but via the panic that your statement could cause. Similar rules can apply for speech inciting violence or hatred against particular groups.

By that standard, Alex Jones and his Infowars outlet make terrible free speech champions. They have made their careers by doing the online equivalent of screaming “fire” on a daily basis.

No, there’s no government involvement here so there’s no First Amendment issue either. That says government can’t stop you saying certain things, not that you’ve got to be able to access a broadcast network to say them.

However, we do come to a much more important issue here. Who gets to decide? If it’s the owners of the networks then all is copacetic. If it’s people like this then we’re in trouble:

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., is calling on other tech companies to ban more sites like InfoWars, and says the survival of American democracy depends on it.

“Infowars is the tip of a giant iceberg of hate and lies that uses sites like Facebook and YouTube to tear our nation apart. These companies must do more than take down one website. The survival of our democracy depends on it,” Murphy tweeted Monday.

No, that’s not the path we want to go down. The moment that politics decides what may be said then that’s when what may be said is determined by the politics of it. Very much why the Founding Fathers put that First Amendment in there. Here in Britain we’ve the Green Party insisting that climate change deniers shouldn’t be part of a multiple interview with them. Their right, of course it is, but think of what the Green Party thinks is a denier. Owen Jones is arguing that the BBC – paid for out of taxes recall – shouldn’t host people that Jones disagrees with.

No Senator, really, no:

No, you don’t get to decide, you’re politics, the companies get to decide themselves and alone.

For as we’ve said here before if we’re going to banish fake news, insist upon only the truth, well, whose truth? There are people out there who would ban questioning of Greenpeace’s position upon climate change. Who insist that minimum wage rises do not create unemployment. Even, whisper it, that Bernie Sanders has three homes. Once anyone outside the specific network providers themselves gets to determine what does go up then we’re in a very dark place.

That is, this is an issue of civil liberty, not democracy, and this is one of those not infrequent times when the two are in conflict. Yes, it’s even possible that the Russians used Twitter to elect Trump* but even so we’ve all got to make damn sure that our own politicians don’t get to determine what may or may not be said in public.

*No, I don’t think so, and given Hills I’d be grateful if they had