Definitions are a funny thing sometimes. It’s important to define things properly so that they can be pigeonholed and categorised. However sometimes definitions get distorted, particularly when language allows the use of hyperbole. The particularly troubling case I see recently is the argument about the removal of Alex Jones from prominent platforms like Youtube, Twitter, Facebook and Apple’s stores.
This is not a post to agree or disagree with these companies’ actions, but rather to speak about how the concerns are dismissed.
Also this post isn’t to suggest that I seek to defend Alex Jones and his frankly outrageous opinions.
Those who are concerned with his removal from these platforms – and along with those sympathetic to him – have used the word “censorship” to describe the actions. However, the retort to the claim is that Apple, Google, Twitter, Facebook et al are well within their rights to remove him and his message from their systems. Also, the further reply is that only the Government can “censor” citizens.
I can see the points from both sides, and I can do so without explicitly endorsing Alex Jones. I do not care for the crazy man.
However, for all the talk these days about “conversations” and “having a discussion”, I feel that this does warrant further investigation to hash the issue out. To be outraged and demand boycotts is equally as troublesome as being snidely dismissive because the definition of the word “censor” doesn’t apply.
One can be concerned about the suppression of speech while also condemning the individual who is speaking. Voltaire quote and all.
Review the world of today. Take a good look at how information is being broadcast and shared. When using the internet, it is typically the dominant method of spreading oneself and their words. News sites will frequently feature tweets from celebrities and regular individuals in their stories. If you’re applying for a job, employers will actively scour your social media for telltale signs of your behaviour to ensure your character is one befitted their organisation.
If you want to build any kind of public persona, it is through non-Government means. You need these platforms today. Even hosting a website, or a blog like this, is beholden to non-Government controls. That private companies can exercise supreme control – and especially in seemingly such a coordinated fashion in the example of Jones – I don’t see how people can be so cavalier about dismissing concerns.
While it may not be “censorship” by definition, is could be argued that it is by action. I have used this expression in other instances, but I feel that it’s often the best way to frame what it is that I’m talking about:
What if it’s someone you admire being removed like this?
What if it were Colin Kaepernick? What if it were Linda Sarsour? Pick any well-regarded political activist with a large platform, and ask yourself if you’d be happy with these companies huddling together to prevent them from spreading their message.
There is also the matter of Alex Jones being removed for “Hate Speech”. While I am not entirely aware of what specific examples this regards, although I am familiar with his disgraceful words around the Sandy Hook school shooting. Were they disgusting? Yes. Would they cause harm? Undoubtedly. Would I support him? No.
Yet the ownership of his words are his. Not Facebook’s. Not Apple’s. Not Google nor the rest of the cabal of networks. I have the same feeling toward Louis Farrakhan, who has also said egregiously hateful things, but oddly remains on the social media public square.
People could point to Alex Jones’ followers and say that they are inspired to do harm because of his words. However, Bernie Sanders remains unscathed despite one of his followers shooting up a Congressional baseball game, nearly killing Steve Scalise.
I am not expecting these companies to host whoever wants to help themselves to their technology. However, I do expect them to apply their policies equally, which is where I think much of this concern about “censorship” stems.
Sure, by strict definition, it may not be censorship. But for all the harm this kind of arbitrary application can provide, in that it can deny “troublesome” (or whom these tech companies think are troublesome) speech, I think this shouldn’t be dismissed so easily.
Giant corporations ruling the world through controlling what speech is allowed, I feel is the kind of dystopic nightmare movie that many of these dismissers might be horrified by.
And if these people are still to see justification in what is happening and want to deny further conversation, then I offer the following:
Today it’s these companies who are able to define hate speech and deny people a platform. However, if MySpace, Friendster or similar are any indication, these networks won’t be prominent forever and something will eventually take their place. And that thing might have sympathies that do not align with your own, and they might be able to define your words as hate speech.
Will you worry about censorship then?