Alex Jones lost access to some very lucrative platforms very recently. In response, his followers immediately began wringing their widdle handsies about his right to free speech. However, this notion is preposterous as well as flat-out wrong. No, Alex Jones didn’t suffer a violation of his American rights. His right to free speech, in particular, remains undisturbed. Today, I’ll show you why–and why his followers cannot face that reality.
The Conspiracy Nutter.
Now look. Ideally, the first thing you should know about The Alex Jones Show is nothing.
—John Oliver, July 30, 2017
Alex Jones, the star and leader of Infowars, is a deeply-dysfunctional right-wing nutjob (RWNJ) who has a huge social-media reach. He uses it to spread the most vicious of conspiracy theories in service to shilling all manner of weird, expensive health and lifestyle products. Unsurprisingly, he either is or acts like some sort of conservative Christian, which I know because he often uses Christian dogwhistles and says stuff like “Get behind me, Satan!” in his super-long broadcasts. I don’t know if he’s one of the causes for fundagelicals’ current deteriorated, degraded state or a poster child of its degradation, but in the years to come you may rest assured that people will not talk about Christianity’s collapse without mentioning his name somewhere.
As the excellent Encyclopedia of Loons put it back in 2011:
Alex Jones is the guy who has yet to meet a conspiracy theory he doesn’t endorse, no matter how batshit insane it is (and, interestingly, no matter how much it conflicts with other conspiracy theories he already believes).
That particular phrase “batshit crazy” comes up a lot in people’s descriptions of the man. The more offensive and shockingly mean-spirited the conspiracy theory, the harder he flogs it.
The three-part screaming thing in the chorus is based on the fact that yes, he literally screams three times when he gets totally worked up. In the John Oliver video coming up in a moment here, you’ll see him doing it.
Now, you might have noticed a minute ago that I mentioned that he spreads his lunatic-fringe theories “in service to” selling stuff to his fans. I wasn’t kidding.
Last year, John Oliver discovered that Jones devotes a good quarter of his shows’ runtime to hawking the stuff he sells through his in-site store. (I also hear rumors that he’s also an MLM shill–which makes perfect sense.)
He claims about six million radio-show listeners. In addition, he boasts–or rather, boasted–a huge presence on a host of social networks. If anything could be evidence that crime pays, it’s his success.
Like Donald Trump, who sucked up to him around the election, he tells his audience whatever they want to hear. And oh, my, do they ever reward him for this invaluable service.
The Denied Platform.
On Monday, he told his listeners on his live show that he had a little feeling that he was about to “get totally banned.”
Well, that’s what happened.
Vice says that Youtube, where he had 2.4 million followers, took down four of his videos and then suspended him from live-streaming for 90 days. Then, continues the New York Times, they simply terminated his channel. Apple removed five of the six Infowars shows from their podcast app. Facebook removed four pages of his–one of which had almost two million followers. Spotify has simply removed all of the episodes of his show. He’s also lost Stitcher, LinkedIn, and Pinterest, which have removed Infowars content.
He’s still got a Twitter account for the time being, but–as they say–the night is still young.
Other conspiracy nutters, who style themselves as “conservative news outlets,” as one Jones fanboy called them in a quote from NYT, worry aloud that they’ll lose their accounts as well–or face deep restrictions about what they post on these sites.
Obviously, Jones’ fellow RWNJs are clutching their pearls over his smackdown. But even people who dislike him sound nervous.
On social media, especially Twitter and Facebook, I saw frequent fretting about “censorship” and “free speech.” RWNJs accused “the left” of “fascism,” wrung their hands over Jones’ loss of platforms, and openly voiced fears of what would happen when Big Government came for the rest of us.
Some people qualified their concerns by conceding that they didn’t agree with Alex Jones himself, but were still deeply nervous about this amorphous quality they called “free speech.” It’s definitely been a topic trending lately.
All of this worrying, however, came from people who had no earthly idea what censorship and freedom of speech actually mean. Occasionally I saw voices of reason there, like this Tweeter who says she’s a political science professor, but they were a fraction of the overall voices.
In reality, according to Lata Nott, an expert in First Amendment matters who wrote about the topic for CNN, “this scenario [getting banned from social media] illustrates one of the biggest misconceptions people have about the First Amendment.” Freedom of speech comes into play when the government retaliates against someone for their speech. When we’re dealing with a business or a private organization deciding to cut ties with a user, that falls way outside the boundaries of freedom of speech.
(See also: “A Choose Your Own Adventure About What ‘Free Speech’ Actually Means.” Hey, it took me a long time to work out the “pages” in that thing!)
Alex Jones himself refers to his banninations as a “book burning,” as Vice relates. I’m sure he wants people to forget that his tribemates’ forebears were the ones doing that. (I’ll tell you soon about the Christian book burnings my Evil Ex performed. It’s just so typically basic fundagelical but I want to give it its own room.) Jones wants people to think he has been done some tangible, actionable wrong.
But he is not going to be able to go to court to be reinstated on those sites. Just as he cannot force someone to have sex with him or gestate for him, he can’t force business owners to endure his presence if they don’t want to host him. If he wishes to impose upon or use someone else’s private business and private space, then their consent is what he needs to get there and stay there. If they decide to revoke his invitation to play there, then they’re not censoring him. They’re simply “showing [him] the door,” as xkcd so wisely phrased it. They’re simply declining to listen to him.
Alas, a lot of folks really seem stuck on clinging to this erroneous idea.
I shouldn’t feel this surprised to see so many people who are like that.
I reeeeeeeeeeeally shouldn’t.
The Shower Thoughts.
My husband (nicknamed “Mr. Captain Cassidy” on this blog, shortened to “Mr. Captain” or “Mr. C”) called to me a few days ago from the shower. He’d been having some thoughts while he sudsed up. These thoughts centered around an online game he plays called MechWarrior Online (MWO). (We’ve talked about it before here.)
MWO is a BattleTech-type game that Mr. C and I rechristened the Stompy Robot Game some time ago because, well, it involves giant bipedal robots stomping around trying to kill each other in an arena. It’s a massively-multiplayer online game (MMO) like World of Warcraft, just centered around robot warriors. Players “drop” into games in teams, then duke it out.
Mr. Captain is very, very good at it.
But a lot of people in this game are not that good at it. I asked him to Explain Like I’m 5 (ELI5) about the strategy he’s using as his example in the shower.
The following is what he explained.
The Team Player.
In this game, there’s this segment of players who think that one particular weapon type, called Long Range Missiles (LRMs), works great on mechs’ loadout, which is the weapons and armor the mechs start off with in a match.
Unfortunately, no math supports this idea.
All the metrics in the game tracking wins and losses show that people who use LRMs don’t win as often. All the best players in this game, all the most successful players, everyone who wins the most, without exception, every one of them–hundreds of them!–confirm this reality.
What is successful is direct fire: lasers, ballistics, sometimes short-range missiles (I guessed–correctly, I’ll add–that these are SRMs). See, LRMs shoot indirectly. You can hide behind a hill and shoot at someone your teammate is fighting. You just have to get a lock on an enemy once–the missiles are somewhat guided. That’s about their big strength. Their travel time isn’t blazing fast, they hit kinda randomly on the target, and their damage diffuses across an area rather than hitting a specific location. Direct fire weapons, by contrast, hit straight and focus tightly one body location.
Also, LRMs do some bad things for team dynamics. They encourage the players using them to hide and not engage or cooperate as meticulously, so enemy teams end up bowling them over. Once one person’s eliminated from a match, their team faces more enemies–who are now focusing their attention on a suddenly-smaller number of targets.
The Math Nerds.
If you are a math nerd, then MWO is your huckleberry. There, you can see the math and the tables and the analyses, test the loadouts to your heart’s content, and obtain measurable, observable results from tens of thousands of people over hundreds of thousands of matches.
Mr. Captain is just that kind of math nerd. After discovering what he did about weapon types, he rebuilt his mechs. He doesn’t use LRMs much, if at all. Consequently, he’s risen steadily in the game’s leaderboards.
But a lot of players love LRMs. And that’s fine. Use whatever you love to play, right?
The problem comes in when some of these LRM-loving players try to argue that none of this math is reflective of reality. The analyses are simply incorrect, they insist. They say stuff like, “They work great–if you use them right.” Indeed, they think that the only reason LRM users lose matches is because they had bad luck. Any test that finds that LRMs win less often becomes, in their hands, evidence of bad luck–or shoddy analysis.
In addition, these player think direct fire takes no skill–they say it’s point and click. They luxuriate in how much more skill they think it takes to use LRMs.
But LRMs, asserts Mr. C, actually require far less skill. You only need a brief lock on the enemy. Direct fire weapons, by contrast, require leading the target (which means accurately guessing exactly where they’ll be), then firing with pixel-perfect accuracy and split-second timing. Often a player must hold that accuracy for a full second or two. All the while, that enemy is almost certainly actively firing back–and maybe that target’s not alone.
The Aggressive Ignorance.
What’s really going on, Mr. C thinks, is that LRMs are just much more accessible for a less-skillful player. Direct fire requires the mastery of many different skills. If you just wanna go click buttons and play Stompy Robots and see mechs explode, LRMs are great. They’re just not good at winning. And that’s okay. Players who are chill about it and not obnoxious aren’t trying to claim it’s anything but a loadout they happen to like better.
But some people want to parade around the game’s forums like they’re the Stompy Robot Kings.
(Cas here: I’ve seen them on MWO’s forums. They remind me, very seriously, of the many fundagelicals who snottily inform ex-Christians that Our Big Problem was not reading the Bible.)
Despite the ease of acquiring data and analyses, these tedious players ignore all of it so they can hold fast to something obviously false. They’ll defend their position to the in-game death!
Such players are aggressively ignorant about LRMs.
Even in a situation where they could easily find out the truth, where the truth is even thrust at them in the form of pushback, they can’t accept it. They’ve invested their personalities and reputations on this one erroneous conclusion. This false idea they embrace rewards them in so many ways that they can’t even think about questioning themselves.
The Handover Back to Cas.
We see people like these LRM defenders in the real world all the time, and online probably even more often. They can’t really engage with criticisms. Nor can they really question their worldview. It doesn’t matter how often you show them anything that contradicts their opinions. They court a reward that is far more potent than whatever they claim their goal might be (winning games, believing stuff that’s actually true, making sales, whatever).
That doesn’t mean it’s pointless to push back, especially online. By being the visible pushback to bad ideas, we reach folks that we might not even know are watching. And we never know when that one person we’re actually talking to is finally ready to let down their antiprocess shields to listen.
That doesn’t mean we’re obligated to work to convince anybody, of course. We absolutely are not required to educate people who are wrong if we don’t want to. I’m just sayin’ that if you, personally, want to try to talk sense into someone, there are upsides to the endeavor even if it seems like your efforts were in vain.
The Slight Perspective Check.
Of course, Mr. C is just dealing with people who are stubbornly wrong about something.
That disagreement, as long-running as it is in their game, is fairly minor in the long scheme of things.
MWO players who are wrong about LRMs are small fry. They’re tedious, but fairly easily ignored.
They’re not Alex Jones shrieking into a microphone about Sandy Hook being totally a government-perpetrated hoax. Nor are these MWO players engaging in campaigns of intense, targeted, terrifying menace and harassment against their critics.
The Thing Alex Jones Knows.
For the people worried that Alex Jones’ loss of platforms represents some kind of censorship drive or violation of free speech, they can rest easy. The sites that have banned him or restricted his access have the right to decide who hangs out there and how they will use the site. In some sites’ cases, it looks like he’s been violating their terms of service for a while. It may be that public outcry has finally given these site owners the courage to consistently enforce their rules at last.
Even if every site ever banned him, he’d still have the ability to go buy his own domain server and set up his own website–which he already did a long time ago to shill his overpriced snake oil. He’s already begging his followers to buy even more merchandise than they already were before the banninations.
A bunch of sites finally showed him the door. And he knows he can’t do jack about it. For all his whining about FREEZE PEACH, he knows he can’t lawyer up to defend his First Amendment rights. That’s because they haven’t been violated, and he almost certainly knows it.
For Alex Jones, the dumbest mistake he could make would be heading to court over this imaginary violation of a nonexistent right!
And again, he almost certainly knows it.
The Bad Faith Trolling Game.
If Alex Jones showed up here tomorrow acting the way he does on his broadcasts, I’d do the same thing these social media sites have done. In fact, you can bet I’d do it a lot faster than those other sites did.
I’ve known for a long time that disruptive, dishonest trolls destroy, degrade, and inhibit actual communication and engagement–they don’t enhance it. Allowing these bad-faith actors to rampage through a community does the dead opposite of protecting people’s ability to express ideas. That’s because they’re not in the game to express ideas. They’re playing a whole other game–one designed to serve their interests at other people’s expense, just like those folks on MWO who think they’ve found the Holy Grail of loadouts.
We’re not obligated to entertain people like that on our own sites and on our own time. Nobody has the right to force us to endure people around us that we don’t want there. Our refusal to listen doesn’t diminish their rights as human beings. We have rights too. We’re allowed to show disruptive tantrum-throwers the door anytime we want.
If they look around and realize that nobody, anywhere, wants to provide them a platform to play their bad-faith trolling games, or to play Stompy Robots with them, or to hang out with them in their Ignorant Tight Ass Clubs, well, that’s not our problem.
NEXT UP: The Unequally Yoked Club Rides Again! In retrospect, it’s astonishing Biff and I stayed married for as long as we did. When you see the absolutely mind-blowingly-bad advice he got about marriage from his
upline Dear Leaders, maybe you’ll be astonished too! See you next time. <3
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