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Op-Ed: Why Purging Alex Jones did not violate the First Amendment

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

Alex Jones and his company InfoWars are notorious for being the largest purveyors of fake news and conspiracy theories throughout numerous digital media platforms nationwide.

Though I have never initially heard of Jones and his company two years ago, I immediately grew distasteful of him when I watched John Oliver do an entire episode of Last Week Tonight on him. The primary thing that made me grow distasteful of Jones was when President Trump gave praise to both Jones and his company during his 2016 campaign.

I was initially pleased when I found out that most of Jones’ content was purged from Apple, Facebook, Spotify, and YouTube on August 6. The reasons for the purge, to my dismay, aren’t due to spreading fake news. Instead, Jones was banned for promoting violence and using hate speech to, in Facebook’s terms, “describe people who are transgender, Muslims, and immigrants.”

However, no decision this large would come without controversy. According to an article published by Vox, many of Jones’ supporters and employees, and even current Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, have argued that purging Jones from these platforms for hate speech violates his rights to free speech. Though I am reluctant to explain it, I find their arguments to be reasonable, but only to a certain extent.

My reasoning starts with an NPR interview with Nadine Strossen, a former president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), on June 5. Though the Supreme Court has never identified nor excluded hate speech from the First Amendment, Strossen argued that “speech with a hateful message may be punished, if in a particular context it directly causes certain, specific, imminent, serious harm.”

There have been numerous examples of Jones’ words causing harm to others. For instance, according to the BBC, Jones uploaded a video this past April titled “Sandy Hook Vampires Exposed.” In the video, Jones claimed that the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school shooting was “staged by the government in order to promote its agenda for nationwide gun control,” and implied that Veronique De La Rosa, the mother of a boy killed in said shooting, was an actor. This resulted in the family receiving death threats from a Florida woman who believed Jones’ claims and a subsequent, ongoing defamation lawsuit against Jones.

One last point I would like to make regarding Jones’ right to free speech on digital platforms comes from a 2016 article in the San Francisco Chronicle where reporter Marissa Lang wrote that “as private companies, social networks are not required to adhere to the First Amendment.” Instead, rules are set by said companies, thereby giving them the right to moderate and routinely screen their content for any terms of service violations. Thus, individuals signing up to use social platforms voluntarily give up their first amendment rights and thereby agree to the companies’ set terms of service.

So, where do I stand on the issue surrounding Alex Jones being purged from numerous social media platforms despite the arguments that Jones’ First Amendment rights were violated? Though I fully understand and reluctantly agree with these arguments to a certain extent, they are invalid as many of Jones’ theories and accusations are deemed as too harmful to be considered free and that the platforms Jones was banned from are owned by private companies and, therefore, are not required to adhere to the First Amendment.

Coming from an individual who uses social media on a daily basis, there are two things I am specifically concerned about regarding the entire situation. First, though Jones nor his company will be able to share their stories and theories directly, there are still others (including President Trump) who will often share them on their personal accounts. Thus, the companies have not completely put an end to the spreading of Jones’ hateful, bogus statements.

My second concern has to do with how we, as individuals, share information with their friends and family. Though I have never received any punishment, my mother’s boyfriend, Dave, has been banned from Facebook once. So, if you are planning to share information with others through social media, I encourage that you all do so responsibly, or else you may face immeasurable amounts of punishment.


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