After Apple removed five podcasts by talk show host Alex Jones and his site Infowars, other platforms swiftly followed. On Monday, Jones' content was wiped from Facebook and he was banned by YouTube. Jones lost 2.4 million subscribers when YouTube deleted his account. Spotify is also barring Jones from posting.
The social media giants were largely applauded for scrubbing Jones' offensive content from their platforms. Over the years, Jones has built a media empire promoting everything from 9/11 conspiracy theories to the false claim that the Sandy Hook shooting was staged with crisis actors, for which he's being sued by parents of the children killed there.
While Jones' content can clearly be viewed as offensive and harmful to the public discourse, civil liberties advocates cautioned that restrictions on speech can backfire. The decision to block Jones is not a breach of his first amendment rights—after all, these are private companies—but may nevertheless have negative repercussions.
“While private companies can choose what to take down from their sites, the fact that social media platforms like Facebook have become indispensable platforms for the speech of billions means that they should resist calls to censor offensive speech," Vera Eidelman, fellow with the ACLU's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, tells Raw Story.
"The recent decision by Facebook and YouTube to take down Alex Jones’ content may have provided a quick solution to a challenging situation, but encouraging these companies to silence individuals in this way will backfire," she noted.
"Whether out of distaste for hateful speech or inaccurate content, they will get it wrong. We’ve already seen it go wrong when Facebook silenced women of color for repeating word-for-word the vitriol thrown at them, without similarly censoring those who made the racist comments to begin with."
"We also saw it go wrong when Facebook decided just last week to shut down a real protest event page for engaging in purported ‘inauthentic’ behavior.”