The Daily Illini

Alex Jones wrong about free speech

Photo courtesy of Tribune News Service

Photo courtesy of Tribune News Service

By Kyra Sadovi, Columnist

Alex Jones, the notorious conspiracy theorist and creator of the site “Infowars,” showed up unexpectedly on Capitol Hill last Wednesday, Sept. 5. He was the unwelcome guest at a party discussing social media giants Twitter and Facebook’s moderation of speech on their sites.

When Jones wasn’t pretending to be a robot in the halls of the Senate building or nearly coming to blows with Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), he was sitting in the front row of chambers as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey were confronted by members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee about, among other things, their sites’ growing influence on speech in the global public square.

On Aug. 14, Twitter became the last platform to suspend Jones’ account. This did not sit well with the “Infowars” founder, who raged on Capitol Hill last week, “The real election meddling is by Facebook and Google and others that are shadow banning people. They are outright banning people and they are blocking conservatives involved in their own First Amendment political speech.”

Jones’ appearance was meant to be a protest, but it was really just a live version of what he does on his show. He berated politicians, screamed — literally — about the various conspiracy theories he happened to be peddling at the time and attempted a series of regrettable impressions. At any rate, the provocateur was there for a reason.

“I’m here to face my accusers one way or another,” he exclaimed, referring to the growing number of social media sites who have blocked his accounts on their platforms.

There is something to be said about the echo chambers created by these social media giants. It is also profoundly disturbing to hear that the integrity of the midterm elections is already vulnerable to hacking attempts. But frankly, Jones is wrong: the sites are not infringing on his freedom of speech by banning him. They are actually bolstering the institution.

Freedom of the press was included in the spoils of a long, strenuous fight for the ratification of what is now the United States Constitution. Thomas Jefferson, although not part of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, wrote of the document’s contents in a letter and lauded freedom of the press as necessary for a healthy democracy.

Wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights.”

Recalling an early lesson from our Advanced Placement U.S. History classes, the framers of the Constitution included the Bill of Rights, that is, the first ten amendments that provide the freedoms of speech, press and others, only as a conciliatory measure to win the vote of Anti-Federalists like Jefferson. He had faith in a well-informed electorate and saw a dire need for a press unhindered by sedition acts and restrictive libel laws.

Alex Jones is not the press that Jefferson envisioned.

In fact, he hinders the democratic experiment. Jones stokes the fire of disillusionment and frustration that has burned in the hearts of millions of Americans for years. His show encourages the ugliest emotions of his listeners, fomenting racism, nationalism and a general hatred. But he’s allowed to do all this with his freedom of speech.

Where he crosses the line is when he insists that the wild, intricate conspiracy theories cooked up in the far corners of the internet are true. Not only has this caused real pain to real people — his denial that the Sandy Hook shooting happened even spurred a lawsuit from families of some of the victims — but it also contributes to the degradation of the American electorate.

We inherited the freedom of speech with the understanding that it was crucial for the upkeep of a responsible, representative government. Jones’ version of that freedom does just the opposite, and his inclination to violently lie and provoke makes him a safety hazard on platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Ms. Sandberg and Mr. Dorsey, keep up the good work.

Kyra is a sophomore in LAS.

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