Lexington Park, MD – In case you missed it on Aug. 5, Info Wars — a right-wing, conspiracy theory, Trump-supporting show — had five of their six podcasts removed from the Apple Podcast app. The day after, Facebook, Google, and Spotify followed suit, banning several Info Wars Facebook pages, their YouTube channel and podcasts. The companies attribute the reasoning for these bans to the use of hate speech, violating their policies. Twitter originally did not ban Alex Jones but then issued him a temporary ban, followed by a permanent one in September. Some strongly support this move to limit Jones’ platform, while others were able to add another reason as to why they hate Silicon Valley.
With multiple arguments for and against the ban, here is the reason why I do not and will not support bans like this: Silencing bad ideas with the label “hate speech” pushes them into the dark corner of the room. In that corner, those ideas can fester and grow, attracting individuals who would have second-guessed the ideas had they been in the public eye, where they could be debated and picked apart for all to see.
Individuals who have watched clips from Info Wars or listened to Alex Jones on a podcast have had the pleasure of hearing about gay frogs, pedophile elites, lizard people, and just about every other conspiracy theory in existence. Perhaps Jones’ most famous—and deplorable—theory is that the Sandy Hook shooting was staged by the government using crisis actors. I can only imagine how painful it is for any parent of the 20 slaughtered first-graders to be subjugated to harassment from a very loud, vocal minority.
Imagine kissing your baby and sending them off to school on December 14, 2012. No way to know that your child and their classmates would be murdered along with six school employees. Imagine burying a six-year-old who would never get to grow and experience the many amazing things this world has to offer. Now imagine how hard it would be to face that every day of your life, how hard it would be to move on. It is not even relatively hard to understand why those parents and family members would love to see Jones removed from every platform, or why almost all of those platforms would comply, helping those parents and other victims of tragedies move past their darkest point.
But if our intent is to change minds, silence is not the answer. Those who believe the events at Sandy Hook were staged won’t change their mind because Jones is not on YouTube. On the Monday following his ban, Jones’ Info Wars app topped the Google Play Store charts. The irony is palpable, and the realization is hopefully evident. The Internet is too big. The sects of bigotry and bad ideas will always find somewhere to congregate. Banning Jones from YouTube, iTunes, and other platforms have only moved his group into the shadows, allowing his echo chamber to withdraw from the public eye. His show will still exist in the recesses of the Internet and will probably thrive even more, now that he has ample left-wing censorship ammunition to slay at all who oppose him.
Bad ideas are bad because they are riddled with fallacy. If you’ve ever listened to a white nationalist speak, you know that it does not take long before they begin backtracking and contradicting themselves, always hitting on the same points. These opinions lack depth. There is no logical consistency to being racist, a fact that is never more evident than when someone like Richard Spencer expresses or defends his views in long-form content. These inconsistencies are all visible in the views that the alt-right holds, so pointing them out takes little to no effort but an effort nonetheless. Everyone’s favorite Trump-loving provocateur, Milo Yiannopoulos, rose to fame by responding in quips to protesters and arrogant reporters, but his downfall came after speaking for more than two hours on a podcast.
Inconsistencies in logic and thinking exist in Info Wars as well, even though they may take more time to point out. I do not think it is fair to assume that Jones is alt-right or racist. I use the example of the alt-right because it is the extreme of detrimental, minority ideas, as are extreme leftist views. Fringe views are more easily eradicated when they scream from a soapbox in the public square, visible to all, instead of as back-alley whispers that gain traction and momentum over time. Seemingly popping up out of nowhere.
Victims of mass shootings and harassment resulting from conspiracy theories, racists, and other misguided ideas should not be forced to bear the burden of truth, I want to make that clear.
The first line of defense against individuals divorced from the truth is responsible, honest journalism. Airtight reporting is paramount, providing a solid source for citizens to point to. Irresponsible sensationalist reporting brings the credibility of the author and the organization into contention. However, regardless of how reliable the journalism is, it does not matter if the articles are not read by the misguided.
The second line of defense is the vehicle for truth, the discourse that perpetuates logical thinking and facilitates education and acceptance among citizens. Civilized discourse among all, regardless of opinion is what changes minds. It is much easier to ignore a holocaust denier than it is to have a conversation with one. The best thing you can do to try and help that person is to listen to them. Genuinely show an interest in attempting to understand what it is they are saying and, more importantly, why they are saying it. Yelling at someone shuts them down and makes them defensive. Listening opens them up to criticism and allows them to approach their own views from an unguarded position. Instead of blocking and running away from those you deem despicable try building a relationship with them. Not all are fit for this but those who are have not been holding up their end of the bargain. Extending a hand and showing love and compassion to those who are accustomed to hate will be more effective than what has, unfortunately, become the current trend.
As political parties move further from the center, discourse disappears with acceptance following closely behind, and what we’re left with is that dark corner, festering with ideas that would be unable to grow otherwise. Alienation and silencing breeds hate and resentment, empowering enemies and displacing potential allies. Presently, the greatest issue in this country is a lack of understanding and compassion for those we disagree with. Try to reach the misguided instead of condemning them and we will be better off as a nation.
Even though many will find solace in Info Wars’ removal from social media and content distribution platforms, Jones’ hardcore audience will not leave. Those harassing victims of tragedies will continue to do so, their views are unchanged and loyalty unshaken. If you recognize a problem fix it at its core instead of haphazardly fashioning a “better feeling” world. A lesson many are taught as children is that there are times when we must do things that don’t feel good, that we do not want to do, but are necessary. Real change takes hard work, real change is unsettling, real change requires more speech, not less. Dialogue brings us together, silence keeps us apart.
Contact Jerold at firstname.lastname@example.org.