By Greg Estabrooks, Staff Writer
Alex Jones, a notorious conspiracy theorist and founder of the alt-right news organization InfoWars, was recently banned from Twitter for violating the site’s abusive behavior policies after he insulted a CNN reporter.
Jones, who was already banned or suspended from several other social media websites including Facebook, YouTube, Apple, and Reddit, claims that his First Amendment rights have become under attack.
The move by Twitter is drawing a mixed bag of reactions from its online community consisting of over 300 million active monthly users.
Many are praising the company’s decision to ban an abusive and repugnant figure in Jones, while others are more sympathetic towards Jones’ cause, and argue that he should be able to voice his opinions freely, no matter how abhorrent they may seem to be.
The First Amendment argument made by Jones may seem convincing at first glance, as the courts have consistently ruled that only speech that incites violence or threatens an imminent harm can be censored or outlawed.
There is no evidence suggesting that what Jones said to get banned resulted in any violence or physical harm to anyone.
However, this standard only applies to speech that the government itself is able to censor, and does not apply to private companies.
Since Twitter is a private company, they are able to use their own discretion regarding the types of speech that they would like to allow on their platform.
Jones, just like any other new user to the site, had to sign the Twitter User Agreement when he joined Twitter.
The user agreement, which most of us haphazardly scroll through and click accept, operates as a binding contract between the user and Twitter, and outlines the types of behavior that are acceptable on the site.
Under the Terms of Service section, Twitter acknowledges that it reserves the right to suspend accounts with or without reason, and afterwards goes on to explain which reasons might warrant an account removal or suspension.
So clearly, Twitter was well within their rights to suspend Jones, as he agreed to the terms of the contract.
But was this a wise move by Twitter? Well, so far, it’s hard to say.
On one hand, by removing abusive figures such as Jones from the community, Twitter is making a positive effort to make their community safer and less hostile.
However, they also run the risk of losing their status as an impartial platform for the sharing of ideas and opinions.
Twitter could soon instead be viewed as a publisher, one that dictates who deserves a voice and who does not.
Because Jones is a prominent conservative political figure, although an extreme one, his banning could give Twitter the reputation of being politically biased.
To avoid this, Twitter needs to be careful with how they enforce the rules of their community, and they must be consistent with whom they ban and for what reasons.
This situation is certainly not the first time that Alex Jones has been under fire for something that he said, as he has many times prior sparked outrage over his outlandish conspiracy theories.
The theories pushed by Jones range from unbelievable to inconceivable to flat-out bizarre.
He has claimed that 9/11 was an inside job, that Sandy Hook never happened, and that the government is using weapons to create weather disasters and is turning people homosexual by putting chemicals in the water. The saddest part is that Jones has a very significant following, as he has somehow convinced a gullible bunch to subscribe to this alternate reality he has created.
Many are suspecting that Twitter may have jumped on the convenience of the incident involving Jones and the reporter in order to rid their site of what they believe to be a source of fake news.
Again, the role of Twitter here is of the utmost importance, as they risk heading down a slippery slope towards becoming a publisher by determining which ideas are worthy of a place in the public discourse.
Even the most far-fetched and radical of ideas deserve to be evaluated by the public for their worthiness and credence, as we can only make free decisions about what we choose to believe if we receive an unfiltered and uncensored assortment of the options.
Twitter would be wise to exercise caution when banning high-profile political figures such as Jones, if they seek to remain an impartial platform for ideas and to steer clear from becoming a politicized entity.