What role does social media play in 2020? Is it a right or a privilege? Is it a place for open discourse? Twitter and Facebook have metaphorically answered these questions by banning controversial users, participating in potentially dangerous censorship.
On Sept. 6, 2018, Twitter banned Alex Jones and his publication InfoWars from their platform for abusive behavior. Just one month before, Youtube, Apple and Spotify banned Jones and InfoWars. Jones’ abusive behavior consisted of promoting offensive conspiracy theories, like the staging of the Sandy Hook shooting.
In May of 2019, Facebook followed suit, banning Jones alongside other controversial users like Louis Farrakhan and Milo Yiannopoulos. According to The Verge, Facebook made a statement saying, “We’ve always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology.”
This statement holds up given the nature of the accounts that were banned. Louis Farrakhan and Alex Jones are very different in their beliefs, but they both used social media to promote their extreme ideas.
Though it is completely within the rights of Twitter and Facebook to ban users from their platforms, it sets a dangerous precedent and brings into question the role of social media in human rights, and the role of disinformation in discourse.
It is important to define disinformation because it is all over social media, even without figures like Jones. Different than misinformation, disinformation is information that is deliberately false, with the intention of misleading readers.
It seems like a good idea to get rid of all disinformation on social media, but it is not that easy. It can be hard to verify the content of posts, and individuals often have a different recollection of events. Additionally, it is important for users of social media to learn to be skeptical. In this way, Alex Jones offers an opportunity for people to identify disinformation and become more aware of its existence.
Facebook and Twitter are platforms designed for individuals to express their opinion and engage in discourses with others. Censoring content like InfoWars works directly in opposition to this principle and may lead to censorship of less incendiary profiles.
When Louis Farrakhan tweets, “I’m not an anti-Semite. I’m anti-Termite” or when Alex Jones says on his show, “Obama is hardcore Wahhabist; he is al-Qaeda” is it right to censor them? I strongly oppose the perspectives of both of these figures and I see how their words can cause serious pain, but I believe that without taking these ideas on directly, they will not go away.
Facebook and Twitter have every right to remove this kind of content, but pushing extremists onto their own platform means that those who encounter their content will do so in an echo chamber where other perspectives are not present.
The beauty of social media is that when Jones tweets something volatile, anyone with a Twitter account can respond with what they think. This allows users to see multiple sides of an issue.
It makes sense that Facebook and Twitter want their platforms to be a safe space for everyone, but censorship is never a good thing.