Freedom of speech is a badly misunderstood concept. Here’s why Christians must get this right.
Silicon Valley has never had the friendliest relationship with conservatives. Last year, Google fired James Damore for circulating a memo about the differences between men and women. Before that, Brendan Eich was forced out of Mozilla for donating to California’s traditional marriage campaign.
Now, tech giants are flexing their muscles by going after conspiracy theorist and libertarian shock-jock, Alex Jones. Just days ago, Apple permanently removed Jones from its mobile app store, citing violations of its policy against objectionable content. He was kicked off Twitter after the company says he repeatedly broke its rules against abuse and harassment. Facebook and Google recently removed Jones’ content from their platforms, as well.
Now, the immediate reaction of many conservatives and even some Christians to this news has been to defend Jones. Republican senator and former presidential candidate Ted Cruz asked, “Who…made Facebook the arbiter of political speech?” Jonah Goldberg at National Review called the move a “glimpse at the future in which big internet silences dissident voices on the right.” Jones himself has accused Silicon Valley of “censoring” him, and many of his fans have called this a violation of free speech.
Now, no one should listen to Alex Jones on social media or anywhere else—let me just say that. His is a brand of conspiracy theories and outright lies.
For example, he claims the victims of the Parkland, Florida and Sandy Hook Elementary shootings are “crisis-actors,” and has even harassed some of them. He claims that the Boston Marathon bombing and September 11th were inside jobs, and that the government is dumping chemicals in our water to turn frogs gay.
But as some have argued, this move sets a troubling precedent of purging online critics of progressive orthodoxy. There’s clear and mounting evidence that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Apple, and even Amazon have a strong bias against conservatives, including religious conservatives—a bias they sometimes act on in unfair ways. For example, Prager University, which has excellent content, continues to fight Google over the company’s decision to restrict their videos.
But should we consider the blackout of Alex Jones the same thing? More importantly, is this a violation of his free speech?
To be clear, the First Amendment guarantees protection from government infringement on speech, religion, and assembly. It does not require companies in the private sector—like Google, Facebook, Twitter, or Apple—to carry speech on their servers or sites that they don’t like. Forcing them to give Jones a megaphone would be a violation of their freedom of speech.
If we insist these companies let every conspiracy theorist use their platforms, how do we object when bakers like Jack Phillips or florists like Baronelle Stutzman are told by progressives they have to participate in and celebrate same-sex weddings? In order to be consistent, Facebook and Twitter have just as much right not to propagate Jones’ unique brand of nuttery as Jack Phillips has not to bake a rainbow wedding cake.
This is especially important now, with Phillips being harassed, again, by the Colorado Civil Rights Commission despite his Supreme Court victory, this time because he won’t design obscene confections to celebrate a gender transition.
Of course, there is a strong ethical case to be made that social media platforms should allow diverse voices, particularly given the dominance these companies have over mass communications. I have made that case many times before, and I will continue to pressure tech giants whenever they don’t treat conservatives or Christians fairly.
But I cannot see how, in this case, Alex Jones’ freedom of speech has been violated, here. If Christians don’t have to bake gay wedding cakes, Facebook and Twitter shouldn’t have to broadcast half-baked conspiracy theories.
That’s how freedom works. And I hope the Colorado Civil Rights Commission takes note.