Most Recent Stories

The Internet is not a Public Park

Alex Jones got banned by YouTube, Facebook, Apple and Spotify yesterday. Strangely, this was a controversial topic in some circles. That’s right – a man who monetized a fake news conspiracy theory about MURDERED KINDERGARTENERS got banned and there are people who are willing to defend this monster in the name of free speech. I am at a loss for words.

Look, I am all for free speech. If you want to go out and say stupid shit all over the place then have at it. But we have a real problem here:

  1. Alex Jones went way out of bounds with his nonsense. Imagine being the parents of one of these murdered children and having to deal with this person spreading a fake story about how it was all a hoax. And then imagine being attacked and sued by that person repeatedly. Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself if this is in any way defensible. It is not. And let’s be clear – Jones didn’t just spread lies about these parents. He is accused of defamation, inciting violence and pushed them into hiding – all this because their children were murdered and he had a political narrative to sell. This is so far beyond basic human decency and freedom of speech. I don’t care if you’re a Liberal, Conservative or Independent. This behavior can never be defended. I feel such a deep pain for these parents that it makes my blood boil.
  2. These are private platforms that open their doors to all of us. People and companies who host public websites are opening their private property up to everyone else. For instance, I host a forum here. Yes, I actually pay thousands of dollars a year to let total strangers comment on my property. It’s great to get feedback and allow mature adults to interact in informative discussions here. But people don’t always behave and when I would threaten to censor people they would go nuts. Imagine that – I had invited them into my property, they pissed on my carpet and then they got upset when I told them they couldn’t piss on my carpet. Think about that for a second and how incredibly illogical it is. It’s as if the people and businesses who own their own property have no right to control what people can or cannot do to their own property because those other people think free speech gives them the right to abuse that property. What an incredible contradiction all done in the name of the Constitution….It makes my head spin.¹

Anyhow, these are two separate points. The second one is debatable to some degree.² Yes, Facebook and companies like them aren’t just private platforms. They dominate public information in many ways. Still, if they are monopolies then maybe the government needs to be involved. Personally, I don’t think they’re monopolies and I don’t like the idea of the government telling private companies who they can do business with. I think there are more than enough platforms for people to voice their opinions on and the Internet is more democratized than it’s ever been. If you have good content then people will find it whether it’s on Facebook or YouTube or Pragcap.

But this brings me to the bigger point – why are people defending free speech in the name of Alex Jones? This is a person who has a long history of repeating outrageous lies and conspiracy theories in an effort to monetize a political narrative. But let’s forget the long history of outright lies and conspiracies. I don’t care if you’re the most mild mannered and politically correct person on the planet – the second you terrorize the parents of murdered schoolchildren with lies and lawsuits 100% of the rest of us need to stand up and shut you down. Corporate America shouldn’t have been the first ones to ban Alex Jones. The rest of us should have banned him from our brains a long time ago.

Of course, freedom of speech should be vigorously defended. But what Alex Jones did goes beyond basic human decency. And there isn’t a single person alive who should defend what he did. Not a single person. Not even Alex Jones.

NB – Some people have responded to this post arguing that Facebook and Youtube are public parks with a monopoly on information distribution. This is not correct. A monopoly is about choice. If your ability to consume content is hurt because you have no other choice then a company is guilty of abusing its monopolistic powers. In the social media world Facebook and YouTube do not control choice. There are plenty of other large and competing platforms out there that people can choose to use freely. The fact that they are the largest ones does not mean they are abusing a monopolistic power. It just means their competitors aren’t doing a good enough job of providing an equivalent user experience. 

¹ – Sites like Facebook are a lot like Disneyland, which is a private park connected to public infrastructure. It feels like you’re in a public park, but you’re on private property and their rules apply. When you enter FacebookLand you signed a user agreement, submitted your identity and gave them a password so they can allow you into their park. Get out of line and you’re out. 

² – There is a reasonable argument on monopolist grounds that these firms wield too much power, but that is a separate matter.