Is Jones calling Sandy Hook a hoax free speech?

Sandy Hook victims' parents are suing Infowars host Alex Jones for saying the massacre was staged. His lawyer contends he's protected by free speech.

Posted: Aug 7, 2018 11:39 AM
Updated: Aug 7, 2018 11:50 AM

It is the oldest cliché in free speech circles that "you cannot shout 'fire' in a crowded theater." In other words, there are limits to free speech -- even under the First Amendment.

In the theater analogy, it's the risk is of causing harm, not directly, but via the panic that your statement could cause. Similar rules can apply for speech inciting violence or hatred against particular groups.

By that standard, Alex Jones and his Infowars outlet make terrible free speech champions. They have made their careers by doing the online equivalent of screaming "fire" on a daily basis.

They are 9/11 truthers; fueled the Pizzagate conspiracy, which led to an automatic weapon being discharged in a Washington restaurant; have suggested Sandy Hook was a "false flag" operation; incited harassment against parents of crime victims; and have done far more.

But it's not the US government that's acted against Infowars and Jones; it's most of the largest tech companies in the US. Jones and Infowars have now been removed from YouTube, Spotify, Facebook and Apple -- all within hours of each other.

There is no automatic right to have your content hosted by any tech giant. They are private companies and thus entirely legally able to decide the limits of content and speech available on their networks, provided it complies with the law.

However, for all that this is the legal argument -- and it's a sound one -- in practical terms, if you get knocked off the platforms of the tech giants in such a way, you have very little chance of building an audience.

A small group of companies has gained such dominance of how content providers can reach new audiences and disseminate content on the internet that, in practical terms, they become all but unavoidable.

If a government (other than the US) censors you, you have plenty of other countries where you can try to spread your message. If it's Facebook and its fellow tech companies, you don't.

Companies with such power shouldn't exist.

Alex Jones should not be anyone's free speech martyr -- his content is self-serving (his conspiratorial rants are used to sell overpriced supplements to preppers) and dangerous. But his banning does reveal the extent to which we have concentrated power on the internet.

The most significant part of Jones' story is the way in which he and Infowars was banned. For years, people have been trying to hold the tech companies to account for dangerous misinformation, hate speech and abuse on their networks. And in response, we constantly hear that the issues are complex and the companies have extensive procedures in place for how they tackle such issues.

The manner in which Infowars has disappeared from almost all the major networks -- at the time of writing, Twitter is the last major outlet still yet to ban it -- takes anyone who's said or swallowed that line as a sucker.

The tech giants either want us to believe in astronomical coincidences about when they take their action, or they don't care that their protestations about how they implement their guidelines ring hollow.

Most people could now reasonably deduce that, provided they can keep their conduct out of the headlines, they may well be able to get away with what they're doing.

In this, perhaps, the companies have publicly blundered. They have shown us they can act, and they have shown us that bad headlines and public pressure is the trigger.

But they've also shown us their guidelines -- as they stand -- seem more of a crutch and an excuse than a real barrier to action.

This is a marker: We can hold them to higher standards, and we should make them live up to those all the time -- not just when the headlines are bad.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 593622

Reported Deaths: 7379
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1228171731
Ramsey51446875
Dakota45976452
Anoka41782439
Washington26948283
Stearns22266222
St. Louis17787304
Scott17296124
Wright16082140
Olmsted1325598
Sherburne1173087
Carver1050745
Clay816392
Rice8063107
Blue Earth751541
Crow Wing666290
Kandiyohi656283
Chisago601351
Otter Tail575478
Benton571697
Goodhue478572
Douglas468575
Mower466232
Winona455050
Itasca439156
McLeod424559
Isanti422464
Morrison419660
Nobles408048
Beltrami397059
Steele388715
Polk384868
Becker380953
Lyon361051
Carlton345654
Freeborn342029
Pine329022
Nicollet326243
Brown305440
Mille Lacs305053
Le Sueur292423
Todd282432
Cass273428
Meeker256640
Waseca236322
Martin230732
Roseau209419
Wabasha20613
Hubbard190041
Dodge18513
Renville180343
Redwood174337
Houston171916
Cottonwood165823
Fillmore156510
Wadena155922
Pennington153719
Faribault152419
Chippewa152338
Kanabec144726
Sibley143810
Aitkin135036
Watonwan13289
Rock128319
Jackson121812
Pipestone115926
Yellow Medicine114120
Pope11056
Murray10639
Swift105618
Stevens91411
Marshall88117
Clearwater86916
Koochiching83615
Wilkin81612
Lake81120
Lac qui Parle75322
Big Stone6004
Lincoln5813
Grant5788
Mahnomen5539
Norman5399
Unassigned49293
Kittson48622
Red Lake3977
Traverse3705
Lake of the Woods3253
Cook1640

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 367236

Reported Deaths: 5940
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk57666626
Linn20892335
Scott20060241
Black Hawk15824308
Woodbury15138228
Johnson1449183
Dubuque13380208
Dallas1118398
Pottawattamie11132168
Story1062348
Warren577988
Clinton555893
Cerro Gordo540689
Sioux514474
Webster512293
Marshall483075
Muscatine481399
Des Moines458066
Wapello4303122
Buena Vista424840
Jasper419372
Plymouth401280
Lee376055
Marion362875
Jones299057
Henry291937
Carroll285752
Bremer284860
Crawford266240
Boone265034
Benton256655
Washington254050
Dickinson248543
Mahaska230451
Jackson222142
Clay215725
Kossuth215564
Tama209871
Delaware209741
Winneshiek196835
Page192722
Buchanan191432
Cedar190023
Hardin185643
Fayette185141
Wright184737
Hamilton180049
Harrison179673
Clayton169556
Butler165034
Madison162519
Mills162422
Floyd161142
Cherokee158938
Lyon158241
Poweshiek154934
Allamakee151451
Iowa148824
Hancock148434
Winnebago142531
Cass138654
Calhoun138513
Grundy136333
Emmet134240
Jefferson132435
Shelby131137
Sac130419
Union128333
Louisa128149
Appanoose128049
Mitchell126442
Chickasaw124116
Guthrie121530
Franklin120721
Humboldt119126
Palo Alto112823
Howard104622
Montgomery103338
Clarke100224
Unassigned9710
Keokuk96031
Monroe95329
Ida90435
Adair86532
Pocahontas85522
Davis83024
Monona82730
Osceola78716
Greene77710
Lucas77223
Worth7478
Taylor66012
Fremont6229
Decatur6089
Ringgold55824
Van Buren55818
Wayne53923
Audubon51010
Adams3384
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