Alex Jones and his InfoWars operation recently have their content removed from iTunes, Facebook, Spotify and YouTube. For the blessedly uninitiated, Jones is something of a grand-daddy of right-wing conspiracy in the internet ages. His work and politics go back a lot further, though not least to the heavy influence of the John Birch Society and paleoconservatism. More recently, he has thrown his lot in with Trump (Roger Stone is a long-standing mutual friend and associate). Perhaps Trump, a friend of oligarchs who spoons out huge amounts of money to the 1% and the military industrial complex, is pleasingly “anti-establishment” in some fashion. Or maybe his overt authoritarianism chimes with Jone’s frequent libertarian sermons, who can say?
As with the Johnson case in the UK, hard rightists, whose voices are replete across media and politics, are playing the martyred snowflake role. They insist their free speech is under attack. For balance, it’s fair to note many US right-wingers aren’t so concerned about the First Amendment. A recent Ipsos poll showed 43% of Republican supporters think the president should have authority to close down news outlets.
In the case of this week’s social media de-platforming, many people with a default support for capitalism have shown little understanding of how capitalism actually works. All the corporations involved are private entities. They can allow or get rid of whoever they want. They have terms of service which Jones was considered to have consistently broken (Twitter don’t consider him to have crossed these lines, at least yet.) Jones also put them in legal jeopardy by advancing potentially libellous allegations that can make the likes of Facebook and Twitter understandably jumpy. For example, he alleged that families of the Sandy Hook massacre were “crisis actors” (a cut-and-paste conspiracy trope) and his show has been a hub of Pizza Gate and Q-anon silliness.
While many of Jone’s critics were pleased, some were concerned about broader implications. The reaction to the story certainly shows the huge power of these platforms: being booted from them is taken as some kind of death.
The use of the term “mainstream media” to describe traditional print and broadcast news is debated quite hotly in some circles. Rightly or wrongly it’s use is often associated the right and far right. But social media platforms are now so vast in terms of financial worth and audience reach that they should be considered mainstream too. Tech companies have always been great at positioning themselves as a renegade altruistic alternative, but the reality can be very different. Their content may be more diverse overall, but the way that it’s funnelled and manipulated is quite distant from the dream many once held had for it. Independent progressive media needs strong support to grow through the cracks and be heard among the noise.