Alex Jones ban a good thing



Opinion columnist Sam King writes about the controversy surrounding "shadowbans" and censoring users on social media.

SAM KING, Opinion Columnist

If you’ve been looking at any news outlet lately, you’ve probably seen a few articles about how the Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, went before Congress to discuss online election meddling as well as some concerns about censorship. Both Facebook and Google are sharing the hot seat that Twitter is currently in for similar reasons. This topic can be sort of complicated, so I decided to try and clear up some of the confusion surrounding it.

Let’s start at the beginning. Last spring, it was discovered that Facebook had been exploited by Cambridge Analytica. The massive data breach allowed Cambridge to create profiles of millions of US citizens and then used that data to influence the 2016 election. Facebook knew about the breach back in 2014, but kept quiet about it, as they thought the data had been deleted. It wasn’t, and that’s how the story broke this past spring (Wired).

Mark Zuckerberg appeared in Congress last April to talk about data privacy. While many politicians showed that they had little to no idea how Facebook or the internet operates, many still raised important concerns over digital privacy. This prompted Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg to work on better securing personal data and eliminating fake news stories.

These false news stories are at the core of why these social media outlets are under fire again. Congress is concerned that social media platforms may be influencing the election and censoring individuals. Twitter is currently at the head of this controversy for their attempts to fix this problem.

This is because they chose to “shadowban” a large number of Twitter users. A “shadowban” is when a social media company reduces the ability to find certain profiles or content on their website. Basically, Twitter let some people keep their profiles but reduced how easily their tweets could circulate on Twitter.

By happenstance, many of these shadowbanned users were Republicans. They then began to cry that their free speech had been limited, despite the fact that they already agreed to the terms and service on Twitter. These cries have been echoed so much that members of Congress are concerned about this issue.

This issue was accelerated on Aug. 6 when Alex Jones had his accounts banned and distribution channels for his InfoWars program banned on Facebook, YouTube, Spotify and iTunes. Alex Jones is notoriously known for wild and untrue conspiracy theories. Some of which include accusations that the Sandy Hook school shooting was fake, and accusations that Democrats were running a child abuse ring out of pizzeria, according to Politifact.

Now Congress and even our President are concerned that conservative voices are being silenced. It is worth mentioning that Alex Jones is a conservative and that these social media bans have hurt his InfoWars traffic. Before the bans, he was reading a daily average audience of around 1.4 million. Three weeks after the bans, they are getting an average daily audience of about 715,000, according to the New York Times. That’s almost half of the usual traffic.

That’s the brief summary of the situation. It will be interesting to see what happens as a result of this congressional hearing. As someone who is actively studying the world of media and has already written an article on the Cambridge scandal, I doubt anything will happen.

In my opinion, this is an important issue that everyone should be aware of. While I think this congressional hearing is bordering on being silly, it does highlight an issue that we as a nation should pay attention to. Censorship, online or not, is bad. However, that doesn’t mean Twitter needs to unban some accounts or that Alex Jones should be allowed back onto YouTube.

I believe Twitter and many of these social media outlets to be justified in their actions. Every user, including Alex Jones, agrees to a terms and services document upon making an account. If a user violates these terms, then the website may take appropriate action against them. So, when YouTube shuts down the Infowars because it violates many of YouTube’s terms of service, I believe they are then justified.

While I personally detest censorship, I am well aware that many individuals are hurting our society as a whole with their rampant amounts of false information and conspiracy theories. I sincerely hope these social media giants remain fair in their punishments, but continue to clamp down on malicious individuals.