Twitter, so far, is holding out. But it seems possible, if not likely, that it too will follow suit at some point and this will all result in a greatly diminished ability for Alex Jones’ empire to have the type of influence it once enjoyed. After all, Jones primarily reaches audiences via video and these days it is difficult to find a large video platform that is not already controlled by one of these tech giants.
A number of conservatives have expressed their disappointment with this. They’re not fans of Jones’ antics. But many are jumping to his defense out of concern that it is the slippery slope towards their own ousting from what many are referring to as the social media “public square.”
For example, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), often branded as the cornerstone of conservatism in the U.S. Senate, said last week of Jones’ initial 30 day Facebook suspension: “Am no fan of Jones—among other things he has a habit of repeatedly slandering my Dad by falsely and absurdly accusing him of killing JFK—but who the hell made Facebook the arbiter of political speech? Free speech includes views you disagree with.”
This is a strange argument for Cruz to make, especially considering he’s a constitutional attorney. I feel certain he’s aware that Facebook absolutely is the arbiter of whatever speech they like within the user-agreed confines of their platform.
But Cruz not only made the argument, he doubled down on it at the Resurgent Gathering in Austin this past Saturday, saying in an interview: “As the poem goes, you know, first they came for Alex Jones. That does not end well.”
This is a borderline criminal misuse of Martin Niemöller’s poem describing the lead-up to the Holocaust.
In the poem, Niemöller describes events that involved the government coming and literally taking people away: socialists, trade unionists, then Jews. None of these tech companies are operating under government orders or with government authority and literally no one is being taken away.
Maybe I’m just not that great at interpreting poetry but I think it’s just possible that the poem was expressly not saying, “every time someone targets someone else for doing something it means death camps are around the corner.”
Can we all agree that that’s not what it was saying?
I mean, call me crazy, but I’d imagine most people would have been super OK with Nazis themselves being rounded up and taken away, yes? Hell, if someone had been there to round up the rabble-rousers at the Beer Hall in Munich, Niemöller may never have had to write his poem. Something tells me today’s conservatives would have been OK with that outcome.
So, if we can operate under the basic principle that yes, there is a line at which someone’s behavior can prompt government action, it becomes reasonable to ask, “did Alex Jones’ behavior cross that threshold?”
Except, oops, I just remembered. The question is irrelevant because the government has nothing to do with this and, last I checked, conservatives were supposed to like it when the government stayed away from private enterprise.
Putting Cruz’s misuse of the poem aside, there are still a number of other objections conservatives are mounting in Jones’ defense, almost without exception making sure to let everyone know they think the guy is douche canoe.
At the top of the list is the public square argument which stresses that these tech companies control so much of the available social media landscape that it is unreasonable to expect free market competition to be any sort of answer to problem of de facto monopolies. The government, therefore, must compel Facebook and Twitter and YouTube to treat political speech fairly.
Why? Because it’s unfair that these companies can do what they want even when conservatives don’t want them to. And unfair is the worst type of fair there is.
I find it incredibly interesting that conservatives have suddenly found themselves treading not so carefully on the ground of managing “fairness,” and “access,” and so on.
When radio was dominated by conservative voices without any substantial internet with which to host what would eventually be known as podcasts, there was no such talk. ‘Too bad,’ conservatives said. ‘It’s not our fault you can’t attract audiences. Build your own radio station!’
And it wasn’t just the media landscape where the idea once seemed pure that private interests and ingenuity would be the great fixer. When Social Security was still something anyone had any interest in repairing, conservatives bellowed from the mountaintops that privatization was key. ‘Let the free market reign!’ they cried.
The same is true of health care, oil, renewable resources, airlines, trains, the list goes on and on. And you know what? I agree with just about all of those calls for privatization and free market values.
Why am I rare now?
The entire Tea Party movement launched in the wake of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP)—a massive government intervention into the financial sector—and George W. Bush’s paradoxical claim that he would save the free market by abandoning it.
Conservatives were angry and said banks that are failing should be allowed to fail and that other banks would fill in the gaps and all would be well because America’s entrepreneurial spirit was unstoppable.
But now, after all of that free market posturing, where do we find ourselves? With conservatives screaming about what’s unfair and demanding something “be done.” They don’t even have a good answer as to what would be done. Just… something.
Conservatives, generally speaking, are the first ones to warn that government has a nasty habit of stepping in to any “something” in which they are invited. And I’d say the conservative movement looks just about ready to let that happen. Because what they’re most concerned about, above all other things, is that this thing they really like—an internet ecosystem that provides them access to audiences and accolades and that intoxicating feeling of virality—works the way they want it to.
So, after all the posturing of the conservative movement as free market embracers who believed the competitive spirit of American entrepreneurs could overcome any and all perceived unfairness in the marketplace, they’ve decided to shed all that in favor of grudgingly supporting a maniac who screams about gay frogs and sells snake oil while claiming dead children are a government hoax.
They may sincerely worry that, one day, they too may find themselves on the wrong end of a social media shunning—the next, less ridiculous, Alex Jones. But that fear isn’t born out of some idealistic concern for the principle of freedom of speech. Instead, they just really like hopping on Twitter and feeling important. And they will get behind whatever bullshit argument or deranged psychopath they have to in order to protect what they most treasure: relevance.