Infringement of the First Amendment or censorship? That’s one question which is up for debate following this week’s news surrounding the ban of radio show host and conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones’ online content and website, Infowars.
On Monday, Facebook removed several of Jones’ affiliated pages due to a violation of the company’s policies on violence and hate speech. Youtube, Spotify, and Apple also followed the social media site’s decision by removing Infowars video and audio content from its respective platforms.
Since its inception in 1999, Jones’ controversial website and media platform has promoted numerous malicious falsehoods including, the sharing of a video that claimed Michelle Obama is a man. The site also previously made headlines for calling the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, a hoax. Jones’ false claims later led to him receiving a lawsuit from the families of Sandy Hook victims.
“Apple does not tolerate hate speech, and we have clear guidelines that creators and developers must follow to ensure we provide a safe environment for all of our users,” an Apple representative said in a statement to BuzzFeed. “Podcasts that violate these guidelines are removed from our directory making them no longer searchable or available for download or streaming. We believe in representing a wide range of views, so long as people are respectful to those with differing opinions.”
Apple, Facebook, Spotify, and YouTube’s decision also comes on the heels of the tech giants receiving pressure from critics to stop the spread of misinformation and hoaxes on their platforms.
While many users approve of the decision to remove malicious content from influencers like Jones, his supporters argue that the move is in violation of his free speech.
“Understand this: The censorship of Infowars just vindicates everything we’ve been saying,” Jones tweeted on Monday. “Now, who will stand against Tyranny and who will stand for free speech? We’re all Alex Jones now.”
AdAge.com reports, the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment “applies to government regulation of speech — not to private-sector companies — and even then, it does not protect defamatory speech or incitements to violence.”
With that said, was Jones’ and Infowars’ free speech rights violated by the online sites? According to one attorney, the answer is, no.
“Facebook and other social media platforms are private companies and have terms of service that users or consumers agree to in order to participate,” Alex Abdo, a senior staff attorney with the Knight First Amendment Institute told USA Today. “But beyond the First Amendment, there is a ‘broader social free speech principle’ that people may be applying in the Jones and Infowars case.”
“There is this idea in this country, since its founding, people should be free to say what they want to say,” he added. “That is what this is about … the question of whether social media companies that exercise enormous influence over public discourse ought to directly silence participants.”
Do you think social media companies should have the right to silence the personal views of users?