Apple, Facebook, & Youtube vs. Basic Shared Values

Apple, Youtube, Facebook, and Spotify deleted right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ pages, podcasts, and videos for violating rules against hate speech and no-one knows specifically what Alex Jones did to receive the death penalty across all these platforms. With this action, we are left wondering which is the greater evil. 

 

Once and for all, the community policies for major tech companies need to be made transparent and consistent.

 

The press doesn't seem to get it - save the few like Rene Ritchie from iMore

 

 

I know I am shouting into the wall of a hurricane but here goes nothing. The main concern from average users related to what has happened with InfoWars is the need for simple transparency. We need an understandable set of community standards which are enforced equally across all situations for each social media and digital platform we use on a daily basis. No-one on the political left and few on the political right are crying specifically about Alex Jones. He is generally known to be a blabbermouth and a clown. Users need even application of policy across the entire political spectrum as well as transparency when the decision to completely ban a group or individual is made by these digital platforms.  

 

CAN WE HAVE SOME LIGHT?

 

What exactly did Alex Jones post to get him banned? Why is it so difficult (if not impossible) to simply get a list of 8 or 10 statements made by Alex Jones on his platforms which caused him to have his shows removed? Forget 8 or 10 - let's start with 1...give the public a single statement he made so average folks can have some context. Instead we get carefully crafted, but empty statements from corporate PR flacks which are full of words that have no meaning. 

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It sounds like there was a pattern of repeated behavior from Alex Jones that caused this, so one would expect that Apple, Facebook, Youtube, et al should have an easy time shining some light on these posts/videos/podcasts. Since these companies don't, along with the fact that the perception in the public is that the political right is disproportionately affected by the enforcement of these opaque terms, seeds distrust in these companies from the general public. 

 

Let's add some icing to the conspiracy cake! Add on top of all this that four platforms (Apple, Facebook, YouTube, and Spotify) all acted within 12 hours of each other to ban Alex Jones. Now you are really whacking the hornet's nest of those who believe that progressive leaning tech companies are complicit in an active, coordinated conspiracy to shutter conservative speech on the internet. This is a self-inflicted wound that does not serve those on the left well. 

 

While the "free speech" argument is weak at best (I agree with Rene Ritchie's positioning on this) one would be acting in bad faith if one didn't acknowledge the enormous power these platforms have on our citizenry. 

 

Alex Jones is banned for hate speech but the same platforms that banned him continue to allow Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan espouse anti-Semitic conspiracy theories across their platforms. Videos online show Farrakhan accusing Jews of secretly controlling government agencies and “weaponizing” marijuana to “feminize” black men. That's just the very tip of the iceberg. Grab some popcorn and do a search on Minister Louis's positions on different LGBT issues and on women in general. 

 

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Here are a couple of his greatest hits: “White people deserve to die, and they know, so they think it’s us coming to do it,” Farrakhan said in 2015. He has also called white people “white devils,” “potential humans” who “haven’t evolved yet” and “sinful by nature.” Opposing interracial marriage has also been a consistent position for Farrakhan. “Now God don’t want you intermarrying with white women,” Farrakhan said in a 2016 speech posted to Facebook.

 

By and large these platforms define "hate speech" as a direct attack on people based on what they define as "protected" characteristics. These can include race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, caste, sex, gender, gender identity, and serious disease or disability. Nevertheless, Farrakhan's continued assault on Jews, LBGT's, women and others somehow don't run afoul of these platforms' community standards.  

 

The progressive rights organization Southern Poverty Law Center considers The Nation Of Islam a designated hate group. "Nonetheless, its bizarre theology of innate black superiority over whites - a belief system vehemently and consistently rejected by mainstream Muslims - and the deeply racist, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBT rhetoric of its leaders, including top minister Louis Farrakhan, have earned the NOI a prominent position in the ranks of organized hate." - yet the NOI retains their presence on the same social media platforms that just banned Alex Jones for non-specific hate speech violations.

 

There are dozens of other examples of right-wing and left-wing, NGO and state-sponsored, domestic and foreign groups which could easily find themselves running afoul of any of these opaque and seemingly randomly enforced social media community guidelines. I don't want to bog down this article with these examples but if necessary I can do the research to find a couple from each group. This isn't the thrust of my point here. 

 

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The main point I am making is that the action of taking an individual or group like Alex Jones' InfoWars down is not what is dangerous. The danger is that we are now held hostage by a handful of individuals at public corporations who have the power to pick and choose what is acceptable for us to produce and consume based upon their biased, self-motivated opinions built on their world view. And since these organizations are not (and should not) be held the the same free speech standards as government, they make their decisions in the dark, with no checks and balances, and with little consequence except for the dust that gets temporarily kicked up in online & independent press.

 

We need to look deep inside and ask ourselves if it's hypocritical to defend the private property rights of a trillion dollar public company like Apple to refuse to provide service to nutty conspiracy theorist, yet also advocate government power to force a private small business owner to decorate a cake for a gay wedding. How are individuals supposed to function as a society where the goal posts are always moving? One day what we say and do is tolerable and the following day, retroactively, that same behavior beings negative consequences upon us... but not upon others who behave in a similar manner?

 

This is pretty simple. These companies need to behave in a genuinely fair and unbiased manner, even though they aren't required to by law (yet). This is about simple fairness and decency. Everyone used to understand this but we have lost the ability to treat each other as humans and to tolerate other opinions.  

 

We can't whine about Facebook being responsible for the outcome of a presidential election and in the next breath poo-poo the sentiment that these companies have the power to stifle speech in a very real and tangible way. 

 

IS IT TIME TO REGULATE THESE PLATFORMS IN THE USA? 

 

We should be careful what we hope for - but these companies are running out of public's patience. The time to get this correct was yesterday. History has shown us that the U.S. government will be happy to step in and set the terms for these companies and implement enforcement. The direction that goes in depends to a great extent on which reality TV star happens to reside at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue at the time. Who wants to gamble with a federal government who monitors your speech online and uses the courts to enforce their edicts?