In my last column, I asked what approach tech companies should take in dealing with Alex Jones, proprietor of that incendiary, bunk-spewing outlet InfoWars. To recap: Apple, Facebook, YouTube, and others expunged Jones’ bellicose babble from their archives, but Twitter refused. In response, Jones took to Periscope, a video broadcaster owned by Twitter, and urged his followers to ready their “battle rifles” against any number of perceived “enemies,” including the so-called mainstream media.
Jones’ call to arms crossed a line apparently. Twitter responded, begrudgingly, by slapping Jones with a seven-day suspension. In a Wednesday evening interview with NBC, Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO, explained the decision in the manner of an inattentive parent forced to ground an unruly teen, if only for the sake of appearances. “We put him in a time out,” Dorsey said, limply.
I asked for your opinions about this fracas before the latest developments involving Twitter. I was delighted to receive a mailbox-full of replies. Today’s newsletter consists of a sound-off relaying the thoughts and opinions of your fellow readers. Here’s what you had to say.
NR (whose note required decrypting with a PGP key, God bless): “While potentially expensive to implement, I like the idea of companies rating content rather than suppressing it in a way that describes its accuracy, inflammatory nature, and other controversial attributes. If tech could come together to set standards for these ratings, then people could be more informed and selective.”
JM: “My knee-jerk reaction to this is that, thanks to their status as channels of communication, companies like Facebook etc should not shut down things like InfoWars, at least without legal backing. Such a decision is like privileging content online in a way that people have reacted so much against in the wake of the Net Neutrality appeal.”
FP: “Do we really want to regress to a world like we had for about 50 years when just three outlets in a single geography with one worldview—ABC, CBS, NBC out of NYC—controlled what hundreds of millions of Americans saw and heard?”
KS: “Much as Apple, Facebook, Twitter et al have billions of users and dominate a lot of public discourse, they’re still private sector companies operating in a free market. Ergo, they have the right to decide what content to allow on their platform and what to ban. Apple and Facebook are both right in banning InfoWars and Twitter is equally right in not banning InfoWars.”
JA: “I’m in the camp that we should not look to government to decide on content that is allowed online. Companies have the right to discriminate as they are private enterprises. It’s in their best interest to editorialize content.”
CR: “I expect the industry steeped in information and access to explain its position in making a decision to exclude a source or voice. Then I can decide for myself if I feel that provider’s choice is founded.”
MH: “In terms of Dorsey, allowing Jones to sustain his profile, who cares at this point. We’ve allowed evangelical nutcases preach to the masses the end of days. …It’s a belief, whether accurate or not. …It’ll all pass. … at this point let people do what they’re gonna do.”
A heap of thanks to those readers who wrote in and offered their views. You’re model citizens and scholars, all. I wouldn’t dare interfere with your right to free speech.