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A conspiracy theorist was banned from several social media outlets–is this a cause for concern for Americans’ right to free speech?
Last Thursday, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his Infowars news network were banned from Facebook, Spotify, YouTube and Apple platforms, in what appeared to be a coordinated effort. The implications of the ban have left some cheering, and others concerned. Jones and his network peddle in conspiracy theories like 9/11 “truths,” as well as the idea that the Sandy Hook Massacre was a hoax, so their audiences (and critics) are bound to be on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to interpreting the reason behind the ban.
The Right to Ban?
One argument that supports the right to ban is that Facebook, Spotify, YouTube and Apple are private platforms that are allowed to ban any person or group for any reason they want–even for no reason at all. It’s a valid argument, and one that conservatives have championed in cases including bakers refusing to provide a cake for a gay wedding, or NFL bosses telling players they cannot kneel for the National Anthem.
However, the majority of people making this argument have also argued that bakers do have to bake cakes for everyone ,and that the NFL cannot tell its players they cannot kneel. Many who have argued against banning Jones and Infowars have argued the opposite in these other cases.
Consistency is key if you want people to believe you are standing on principles.
You could also make the argument that these are not the same types of issues and should not be treated the same way. If you start the process of banning people from platforms because of unpopular speech, the platforms are going to be inundated with requests to ban more people and more groups based on their own disagreement with the published content.
History has shown that appeasement does not stop, but rather accelerates, the desire to get more of what is wanted.
The Right to Be Heard?
The other case to be made is that freedom of speech was enshrined in the Constitution in order to protect unpopular speech, and while the First Amendment does not apply to private businesses, one could contend that companies like Facebook have transcended being “private” and have entered into being public utilities. They have become the “town square” where a person’s voice is able to be heard.
A ban on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram or any combination of those platforms essentially renders one voiceless in an era where people are switching from television and print media into online news.
The ban essentially robs the person of their free speech in our modern, virtual-based world.
Both arguments are valid, but in the opinion of this writer, it is a dangerous and slippery slope when speech begins to be banned, regardless of how repugnant one thinks it is.