Saturday, July 28, 2018

A Partial Fix for a Pernicious Problem

I don't discuss Alex Jones very often, though I feel that he shouldn't be ignored. The paranoid right-wing conspiracy theories he peddles, mainly warmed over Bircher nonsense seasoned with a touch of Nebel/Bell lunacy, have had a pernicious effect on political discourse- there's no real middle ground between people who oppose child prisons on the US border and people who believe that there are child slave camps on Mars. Jones is also a major pusher of the conspiracy 'theory' that there is a child trafficking ring run by powerful Democratic Party and 'Deep State' operatives. Meanwhile, politicians caught victimizing underage individuals are typically Republicans, conservative ones.

Jones' video suggesting that he wants to shoot Robert Mueller seems to have been a 'bridge too far', and Facebook suspended his personal account for thirty days. While this is a partial fix, Jones' Infowars account has not been affected- it's as if Facebook fixed a leaky faucet while leaving a torrent of raw sewage to continue to flow into the national memescape. There are hints that the Infowars page might be yanked, but I'm not holding my breath... it's not as if Zuckerb0rg has any moral fiber.


mikey said...

Wow. Really?

I think Zuckerberg is showing more moral fiber than those of my fellow American 'liberals' who believe in small-d democracy until they sense a chance to silence a voice they don't like.

Jeezus, what part of 'protected speech' are you struggling with here. And yes, before you tell me that the 1st amendment only prevents the government, not private entities, from censoring controversial speech, I do know that. But do you not see that this is an unnecessary and illiberal path down a truly slippery slope? At a time when so many of our democratic values are under attack, you think we should just go ahead and attack another one?

Look. This is very simple. We don't protect voices that speak of butterflies and bunny rabbits. The speech we HAVE TO protect is the speech that we find offensive, that angers and disgusts us. At a time when the President of the United States daily demonizes journalists and even members of the Democratic party, maybe we should be fighting a little harder for human and civil rights, even when they are not something we actually support?

It doesn't surprise me when right wing authoritarians silence speech - as an advocate for Palestinian rights I'm quite used to it. But when did we on the left surrender to such an illiberal and authoritarian instinct?

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

I don’t consider stochastic terrorism such as Jones espouses to be protected speech, nor is Facebook a government entity that has a First Amendment obligation to give Jones a platform.

StringOnAStick said...

Seconded, B4.

mikey said...

So then you're perfectly willing to assign the role of arbiter for what is acceptable speech to the likes of Mark Zucerberg and @jack?

See, the problem with your little censorship jihad is that somebody has to be empowered to make these decisions, and you would seem to be perfectly comfortable to have those decisions made by random software billionaires.

If you think about it from the standpoint of a liberal, a jew, a communist or a transgender person, that's hideously frightening.

And as you yourself pointed out, the roots of Info Wars goes back to the John Birch Society and their mimeographed newsletters of 70 years ago. Somehow the American democracy survived...

mikey said...

That's it? That's all you've got?

Facebook isn't compelled by the first amendment to give anyone a platform? (I even mentioned that in my comment, and still that's the best you can do?) Great. Apple isn't compelled by current tax law to pay taxes. ICE isn't compelled under current law to keep children and their parents together. This is the standard you want America to live down to?

What if...just hang with me here...what if instead we DEMANDED that our large-scale publishing and communications platforms DID live up to basic American values and we insisted they PROTECT speech rather than censor it - even though, sure, they can legally choose to censor.

Nope - no worries. I can't imagine what could possibly go wrong with this plan. And oh by the way? Alex Jones can set up his own server and his own studio and continue to publish unhindered. Voila - you've put everything we believe in at risk and accomplished...nothing.

Good job there...

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Platforms come and platforms go- if you want to break the power of social media billionaires, don’t play their game. I don’t. Meanwhile, Sinclair uses the public airwaves and there’s no push against them denying alternative viewpoints.

mikey said...

Um. OK. Good points, just not relevant to the discussion.

First, I DON'T want to 'break the power' of social media billionaires. But I also don't want them choosing which groups can use their platforms and which can't. The big problem with censorship on any level is twofold: First, you have to designate some person or group with the power to decide what you can publish or read, and second, you might love seeing one group silenced but next year YOU might be the one who is silenced.

Sinclair is like Fox - they are a propaganda arm for the Republican party. That is also protected speech, which is why there's no 'push against them'. There shouldn't be. Again, that's a path that cannot lead to any kind of society you and I would want to live in.

You're absolutely right about the ephemeral nature of platforms. The printing press, the mimeograph, the fax machine all had their day. And all worked perfectly well in allowing all forms of speech to be published. There is interesting historical work that indicates that the fax machine helped bring down the Soviet Union - they carefully limited access to printing presses, but then those pesky fax machines allowed the people unfettered access to real information. But fascinatingly, those same machines had no negative impact on the US, because the US already permitted and even encouraged all forms of speech.

So the more you try to limit people's ability to publish and read what they want, more powerful you actually make them.

Again. Good job there...