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The First Amendment And Social Media

August 9, 2018

Alex Jones is an idiot.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
– US Constitution, First Amendment

The Framers put a lot into that first amendment. There are five separate protections:

– Religion
– Speech
– Press
– Peaceable assembly
– Petition Government

The Constitution was ratified in the 18th century, more than 200 years ago. Obviously the writers had no concept of the internet, or social media.

Is the 1st Amendment still relevent?

Was George Washington the first president? (That was a rhetorical question, but just in case you are unsure, YES, the guy on the quarter and the one dollar bill was the first president.)

Recently GoogleAppleFacebook banned Alex Jones. (He’s still on Twitter for now.)

Jones is an idiot. He’s a provacature who basically sings for a choir made up of conspiracy theorists, most of whom identify as right-wing.

Jones, and his attendant website, the most popular of which is InfoWars, likes to make people uncomfortable. His most aggregious offense is to claim the Sandyhook Elementary school massacre was faked. That the parents are all actors, and that the kids really didn’t die.

(Don’t ask me to explain it, I’m not a fan.)

It would be easy to dismiss Jones as just another crackpot on the internet. . .except he has hundreds of thousands of followers. Apparently they believe the crazy stuff he says.

It’s interesting to note that Jones, himself, appears to be playing a role. Spouting lines from a script, but not necessarily from his heart. He’s going through a divorce and his ex-wife wants custody. Her attorney, rightly grabbed a bunch of the cooky stuff that Jones as said and is using it as evidence that he’s unstable.

His attorneys have very carefully tried to explain that he doesn’t believe everything he’s said.

That brings us to the 1st Amendment. Should Jones be allowed to spread his lies that obviously even he doesnt’ believe? Do GAF have an obligation to at least attempt to verify that what’s on their platforms is valid?

No. No, they don’t.

First, let me say that GAF has every right to ban him.

But, Rodney, isn’t that censorship?

Why, yes. Yes it is.

Isn’t that banned by the first amendment?

No. No it is not.

The first amendment protects you and me and Alex Jones from the government censoring our free speech. But, a private individual or company can exercise censorship and we all do on a regular basis. For example, if you come to my house I would ask you not use foul language. In fact, if you fail to honor this request I will exclude you from my home.

GAF excluded Jones from their private platforms.

Good, right? I mean he was spouting crazy stuff. Better to nip that in the bud.

No, it is exactly the Alex Jones type speech that we need to work the hardest to protect. Don’t get me wrong. I wish everyone would stop listening to him and he had to go get a regular job. But, it’s important that we as a society give him the opportunity to say stupid stuff.

If the first amendment cannot protect the foulest speech imaginable, it cannot protect any speech.

There’s an old saying,

I abhore what you are saying, but I will defend to the death, your right to say it.

Even hate speech, so long as it avoids threats or libel should be protected. Yes, hate speech is protected speech. It’s the measure of our society to see if we truly have the strength of our convictions, to protect even those with whom we most disagree.

So, while GAF has the right to ban Jones, I think it weakens our society that they have. Who’s to say your views, or mine might not someday be viewed as anti-social?

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
-Martin Niemöller

It’s a true today as it was when he wrote it in post-war Germany.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

Follow him on
Twitter (@rodneymbliss)
Facebook (www.facebook.com/rbliss)
LinkedIn (www.LinkedIn.com/in/rbliss)
or email him at rbliss at msn dot com

(c) 2018 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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One Comment
  1. Rod,
    I believe the issue is ‘incitement to violence’. There is a credible claim that he is doing exactly that, and as a company Google, facebook, etc. does not have burden of proof.

    That being said, it’s still worrisome, which is one reason they avoided it for as long as they did. There are other, less virtuous reasons that may be in play as well….

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