Alex Jones' Infowars Site Accuses 'Big Tech' Of Censorship
NOEL KING, HOST:
There are two interesting media stories that we've been keeping an eye on. The first is Facebook, YouTube and other social media sites have banned some accounts linked to Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist. And The New York Times is defending its hiring of a new opinion writer. Her name is Sarah Jeong. And some of her past tweets have been called racist against white people. We talked to our media correspondent David Folkenflik about all of this. Good morning, David.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.
KING: I want to ask you first about Alex Jones. I mean, this guy has been out there for a while. A lot of people do not like his conspiracy theories on, for example, the Sandy Hook school shooting. So why is his stuff being taken down just now?
FOLKENFLIK: Folks at Facebook and YouTube and other places that have made seemingly principled stands about the idea of being open platforms for people to share ideas - the ideas that Jones shares are particularly noxious, the idea that Sandy Hook massacre of schoolchildren was a hoax, the idea that 9/11 was an inside job and other things. And yet at a time when these same platforms have said that they will try to winnow out fake news, hoax news, they've been hard pressed to explain why they've allowed Jones to continue to operate. Ultimately, Apple basically said, we're pulling him from all of our podcasts on Sunday. And you saw a bunch of other social media giants - Facebook, YouTube, Spotify - basically follow and take out the accounts that were that were most important to Jones and to his site Infowars.
KING: Jones says that he is the victim of censorship. So I guess the question is does he have a point. Or maybe more importantly, will his supporters think he has a point? And what will that mean?
FOLKENFLIK: Well, they certainly will. And they're already rushing to embrace that. You know, I mean, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, tied himself in knots about the importance of being a free speech platform at Facebook - saying he would even defend a Holocaust denier's rights to spread essentially lies and calumnies. And yet, Facebook essentially took this action too once Apple had taken acts. You know, there's been real pressure, from both journalists, from a lawsuit from the parents of those killed at Sandy Hook and others, to say, you know, you guys are responsible for some of the stuff you do. This was - it turned out to be too extreme even for them.
KING: Let me pivot to Sarah Jeong. She's a well-regarded digital journalist. The New York Times hires her as an opinion columnist. Conservative critics kind of dig up these old tweets where she mocks white people and men very, very explicitly. And the Times says, we are standing by her. Why is that?
FOLKENFLIK: Well I think, among other things, the context in which she wrote those tweets are important. In isolation, they are genuinely offensive. They're offensive about whites - white men in particular, older whites, about the idea of white culture. And yet she was responding to a deluge of misogynist, of anti-women, of racist tweets. And she was doing it in like kind. She says now that she regrets it but that she was rhetorically trying to mimic and mirror the kind of antagonistic things. The Times says, look; we talked about it. We don't approve it. We've made clear that we don't accept that from our folks. And at the same time, we're not going to be bullied into not accepting somebody who's evolved. This is an exceptionally talented journalist about digital issues, as well as a Harvard Law graduate.
KING: Let me get your thoughts very briefly on where these all leaves us. Are we in a moment of manufactured outrage? Or is this reasonable pushback to these two outrageous statements?
FOLKENFLIK: You know, I mean, I think there are outrageous statements - really important not to make equivalence between the two instances. But they are cases in which people are reaching into the past and using statements against it. This is the train in which political fights are often fought - honestly and genuinely and also trolling and hypocritically, you know, as ways people try to score political advantage. And that's the moment that we live in.
KING: NPR media correspondent, David Folkenflik. Thanks, David.
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