Alex Jones was just banned from any platform worth spending five minutes on. For Alex Jones, and his particular brand of hate and conspiracy theories, this probably isn’t the end because he will likely start his own platform and his devout following will do just that, follow. For others, this banning definitely sends a signal: Play by their rules or you will get throttled.
And, let me say up front – I agree with his banning. If he was on a street corner, on a milk crate, with a microphone and an amplifier, then I wouldn’t agree. Free speech is free speech. I don’t have to agree with what he is saying (and I don’t) to protect him. But a public street corner is not where he shares his views. He is using platforms that have been created by businesses. He is using communities that have been built through investment, advertising, loyalty, and trust. His remarks and rants threaten these companies’ brands and their bottom line. His hate speech drives people away from the ads that they are paid to deliver. His hate speech makes advertisers not want to advertise and mistakenly be associated with Jones’ brand. It isn’t free speech when someone else has built the platform.
What does this have to do with net neutrality? Everything! Someone that a company disagrees with is getting blacklisted by a tech company. Silenced by the Internet. Alex Jones is being throttled.
And it was the supporters of net neutrality that did it. It was the same Silicon Valley billionaires complaining about the possibility of limiting access that are happy to do it when it comes to protecting their business. And, what was the response from their communities? Rioting? Threats of violence against their leaders? No, the response has been overwhelmingly supportive and even contemptuous of platforms that didn’t ban InfoWars.
It proves that the fight over net neutrality isn’t a philosophical mission of “openness,” but a more understandable one of greed. The supporters of net neutrality don’t like that they are clients, and they want the government to step in and change their relationship.
What home builder wouldn’t want cheap lumber?
[Also read: Mike Coffman’s bad legislative approach to net neutrality]
But when net neutrality supporters pulled out the moral high ground card, it was only a waiting game until they slipped up. Businesses have to make decisions every day about their company that aren’t necessarily popular at the time, but they make these decisions because they will benefit the company in the long run. And honestly this isn’t big tech’s first slip up. In the fight against “fake news,” plenty of well meaning people have been tripped up, banned, and throttled – including myself.
And, what if instead of throttling Alex Jones, these tech giants would have kicked Barack Obama off their platforms? Again, they have the right to do it, but kicking the former president off their site would have caused riots.
Or, what if a big cable provider decided to slow down Netflix (funny because Netflix actually was throttling itself for a bit), there would likely be riots as well. Maybe not the same type of pitchforks in the street type of riots, but people leaving that cable company provider to find another Internet Service Provider.
The thing that most Net Neutrality supporters don’t understand is how free markets work; if someone finds limited access or issues on a network, in a way that customers don’t support, then customers are more likely to move on to a competitor. And, if there aren’t enough competitors, but enough people in a market are upset with the products being provided then a competitor will enter into the market. If a product is demanded – the free market will find a way to provide it.
Net neutrality supporters are really only worried about their business’s bottom line, not the so-called free Internet and instead of competing they are asking for the government to step in. Most infuriating they aren’t looking at the bigger picture. In a world where one group isn’t allowed to choose how their platform is used (A Net Neutral World), it just makes sense that any platform would be neutral – and Alex Jones would be able use these businesses to spew his hate.
Charles Sauer (@CharlesSauer) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is president of the Market Institute and previously worked on Capitol Hill, for a governor, and for an academic think tank.