If the Internet is a ‘Public Utility’ You Can’t Just Ban Alex Jones

I don’t pay any attention to Alex Jones. It’s not a value judgment he’s just not anywhere in my top-ten, twenty, or perhaps even 100 (500?) political talkers, writers, or thinkers for whom I make time. I am aware of him but not overly familiar.

Others think he’s the bee’s knees. I’m not here to tell you one way or another, but recent actions by social media tech giants against Mr. Jones have demonstrated another potential layer of liberal hypocrisy worthy of our exploration.

Jones has been kicked off the social media island.  I could go on again about free speech, but I don’t need to because you can read plenty from me on that here. Private companies, free speech. Open internet, free speech. Did someone say open internet?

Jonah Goldberg, reacting to a piece by David French, courtesy of Jazz Shaw, (all three deserve your full attention) noticed something about the Net Neutrality cult’s reaction to social media behemoths tossing Jones of the “sharing” reservation.

“…part of the problem is that platforms such as Google, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc. operate almost like public utilities. Indeed that’s one of the ironies about the battle lines drawn over Alex Jones. As a broad generalization, the people who loved net neutrality, precisely because they want the Internet to be like a public utility, cheered Big Internet for banning Jones from its platforms. Meanwhile, many of the people who hated net neutrality were outraged by the idea that private companies could “censor” voices they didn’t like. A real public utility can’t deny services to customers just because it doesn’t like what they say or think.

The neutral net as a public utility is a useful analogy. The entire basis for its regulation (to make it more open- har, har, har) is based on technologically ancient rules liberals would typically find unsuited to modernity if we were arguing about firearms, when life begins, or even free speech.

But not the rootin’ – tootin’ wild-west internet. That’s a public good and we all deserve a fare share (that was deliberate) for the greater something-something. Equal access for all. Except where (and how and how often) we decide it needs to be regulated.

If this approach has you confused read Animal Farm.

We could (and perhaps should) make the point going forward, at least with Net Neutrality supporters, that they can’t have their public utility and eat it too, or something. Not that they’d have the ears to hear.

Net Noots aside, is it a greater public good or not to let folks run willy-nilly all over the internet? And by that, I mean not just liberals and leftists in general (who already have a free pass) but conservatives too?

What rules if any do we apply?

David French, whom Goldberg points to in his piece, makes the case that the current set of standards as enforced by the gatekeepers at Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Google, and so on, are

“good on first reading, but they are extraordinarily vague. We live in times when the slightest deviation from the latest and ever-changing social justice style guide is deemed bigoted and, yes, “dehumanizing.” We live in a world where the Southern Poverty Law Center, a formerly respected civil-rights organization, abuses its past trust to label a host of mainstream organizations (including my former employer, the Alliance Defending Freedom) and individuals as “hate groups,” “white nationalists” or “anti-Muslim extremists,” based sometimes on disagreements about theology or sexual morality or sometimes on outright misreadings and misrepresentations of an individual’s beliefs and views.

In other words, they are loaded with bias.

His suggestion for a solution would be to (gasp!) look to rule of law for guidance.

The good news is that tech companies don’t have to rely on vague, malleable and hotly contested definitions of hate speech to deal with conspiracy theorists like Mr. Jones. The far better option would be to prohibit libel or slander on their platforms.

To be sure, this would tie their hands more: Unlike “hate speech,” libel and slander have legal meanings. There is a long history of using libel and slander laws to protect especially private figures from false claims. It’s properly more difficult to use those laws to punish allegations directed at public figures, but even then there are limits on intentionally false factual claims.

The courts, and the Supreme Court, in particular, have done an excellent job on the matter of which speech is free. And I think the great minds at Google etc. have enough lawyers to come up with a user agreement that keeps them out of any tussle between parties that clash in the environments they created. With an emphasis on facts like the content is not theirs, which Jazz examines in his response.

Goldberg perhaps inadvertently touches on it when he says this: “I certainly have no problem with private entities — including corporations such as Google and Apple, but also every journalistic enterprise — using their own judgment about what kind of speech they will publish or associate with.”

If we accept this thought, we accept the idea that Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are “publishers” and therefore somehow responsible for the content which appears on their platforms.

Read all three before you think you’ve got the problem solved. They make for interesting reading.

It poses a problem for the Net Neutrality folks. An open and equal internet (in all it’s rhetorical glory) shouldn’t have gatekeepers who make arbitrary decisions outside the recognized legal protections of Free Speech and association. But then, the people who want it are many of the same people riding the equity and diversity train which is all about arbitrary decisions about words, values, and policies, with a frequently militant intolerance to things with which they disapprove.

Nothing to see here. Just Liberals being liberals.

Steve is a New Hampshire resident, blogger, and activist. A member of the 603 Alliance, NHCMP, NHRVC, LFGC, and the host of GrokTALK! Please Note: My opinions are my own and not those of my Family, employers, politicians, campaigns, or other contributors or commenters at GraniteGrok