If Twitter must ban Alex Jones, how about Donald Trump first?
Yonden Lhatoo argues that if American tech giants like Facebook and Twitter must ban the far-right radio host for internet bullying and spreading hate speech, it would only be fair to start with the US president first
So Twitter finally caved in to public pressure this week and suspended the accounts of America’s most celebrated far-right nut job, Alex Jones, even if it’s only for seven days.
The online news and social networking platform had initially resisted social justice warriors and liberals baying for more blood after Facebook, YouTube and Spotify banned the radio show host and conspiracy theorist for spreading hate speech.
Twitter eventually relented and gave him what it called a “timeout” after Jones tweeted a video urging his millions of followers to get their “battle rifles ready” against the media and others. His call apparently violated the company’s policy against content inciting violence.
I have zero sympathy for this unhinged darling of the American alt-right and his hoarse hysterics as he complains about censorship and the violation of his right to free speech. I mean this is the guy who claims the US government is trying to turn everyone gay through tap water, that the Sandy Hook school shooting was a play-acted hoax orchestrated by the anti-gun lobby, and that former presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton was running a child-sex ring out of a pizzeria in Washington.
As completely deranged as all of it sounds, his rants can be downright dangerous because of boneheads who believe everything he says. One of them actually went charging into that pizzeria and opened fire with a rifle.
Whether people like Jones should be muzzled is a matter of endlessly divisive debate. But if the tech giants helping disseminate his vitriol must go about this purge, how about starting with the elephant in the room?
I’m talking about banning one of Jones’ biggest fans who can match him pound for pound when it comes to hate and bullying online, yet is far more dangerous and influential because of the office he’s been elected to.
That’s right, ban US President Donald Trump from Twitter because “his lying and recent conduct characterised by increasingly frenzied commentary is wholly inconsistent with access to the nation’s most closely held secrets and facilities, the very aim of our adversaries which is to sow division and chaos”.
If those words have a familiar ring to them, it’s because they’re the exact ones Trump used to justify stripping former CIA director-turned-critic John Brennan of his security clearance.
Trump’s defenders may argue he doesn’t get as explosively offensive as Jones in his Twitter rants, but when the president of the United States sends out a tweet calling a black woman who used to work for him a “dog”, let’s not kid ourselves about the magnified impact and implications.
In that context, what the tech giants have done to Jones, the easier target, will remain manifestly unfair until somebody has the guts to purge the internet of Trump’s hate speech as well.
Actually someone has been trying. Former CIA undercover agent Valerie Plame Wilson last year launched a crowdfunding drive to raise US$1 billion to buy a controlling stake in Twitter and shut down America’s tweeter-in-chief. She hadn’t got far, last I heard. Plus, a majority stake in the company would cost six times the amount she dreams of raising.
I’m all for free speech at the end of the day. We should be free to say what we want to say, unfettered and fearless. That is what makes America the great country that the rest of us in the not-so-free world can look up to and admire.
But when your free speech is causing real harm to others – and I mean beyond Starbucks coffee-fuelled snowflake sentiments – there has to be a limit. Good luck drawing the line, though.
And by the way, as certifiable as Jones sounds, I’m not fully writing off his 9/11 conspiracy theories about a government cover-up. You never know.
Yonden Lhatoo is the chief news editor at the Post