The New York Times took a typically myopic view of Facebook’s decision to ban Alex Jones and Infowars from its platform this week, refusing to even engage the thorny question of how much power we as Americans have afforded these giant tech companies. Instead, they sidestepped this crucial debate in favor of a simplistic, missing-the-point survey of First Amendment scholars, who all insist that Jones’s right to free speech has not been violated. The only problem, of course, is that no one was seriously making that claim to begin with.
But then the Times went further, claiming that even in such a case as the defamation suits that Jones is facing, he does not deserve First Amendment protection. In other words, freedom of speech is fine for people expressing a political point of view, but it isn’t okay for the owner of Infowars. This is apparently where we’ve landed on this debate, at least as far as leftist news outlets are concerned.
From the Times:
In a recent court filing, four law professors who specialize in free-speech issues said that Mr. Jones’s oeuvre was riddled with “absurd conspiracy theories” and urged a federal judge considering a lawsuit against him not to let him hide behind the First Amendment while publishing his rhetoric.
“False speech does not serve the public interest the way that true speech does,” the scholars wrote. “And indeed, there is no constitutional value in false statements of fact.”
While they acknowledged that the protection of speech is “a priority of the first order,” the First Amendment scholars, from institutions like Rutgers University and the University of Chicago Law School, noted that since the Middle Ages defamation law has created “social boundaries about what speech is and is not acceptable.” It has also, they wrote, long sought to balance the freedom of expression with the safeguarding of people’s reputations.
We’re not going to mount an argument that says Jones should be free to say whatever he wants, regardless of how it might damage an individual’s reputation and regardless of how much truth there is to his remarks. We agree with the scholars that there are limits to every Constitutional right, including the First Amendment. Defamation law is not exactly something the left just pulled out of their posteriors. It’s a thing, and Jones could in trouble in a number of current cases.
We just find it extraordinary that the Times would run this story this week, right after Facebook, Spotify, and Apple decided to “deplatform” Infowars from their sites. In doing so, they are making the implicit argument that not only is Jones (potentially) legally liable for defaming private individuals but that there is something just and right about these Silicon Valley billionaires picking and choosing who gets to spread their opinions on social media. THAT is something we will never agree with, especially given the flimsy reasons that Facebook cited when banning Jones from the site. Because if angry rhetoric against transgenders, illegal immigrants, and Muslims is not allowed in the public square, then Infowars will not be the last site banned.
Not by a long shot.