My subjects as an artist have been the greedy capitalist system, organized religion, patriarchy, and other institutions I feel are unjust and oppress people. I have engendered my share of critics. I have been kept out of certain avenues and channels because of my views.
Thus, I have had my share of struggles putting my brand of art out in the local public sphere. I have pushed hard to get the theater gatekeepers to produce my shows. However, as my art is challenging, I was informed indirectly that it was too threatening to the mainstream.
I was even told by a literary agent whom I contacted to represent me, that my writing was too radical, and that if I wanted to break into the business, I needed to write urban fiction.
Fortunately I have had comrades like Red Emma’s, Charm City Fringe, Spotlight UB, the Enoch Pratt Free Library, CItyLit, 3 Goats and Artscape that facilitated the production of my solo shows and other performance art showcases in Baltimore.
My main outlet has been through social media, particularly Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, delivering a lot of my material it directly to my audience. Through these platforms, I have been able to share my style of unabashed radial sociopolitical art.
For now, none of those platforms have taken down my material, except for one video, which is only due to copyright issues – perfectly standard and professional business; it was my complete oversight.
It would be a travesty if they decided that my work did not adhere to “community standards”, and took down my pages.
That is what happened to Alex Jones.
When I heard the story that InfoWars posts and videos were mostly removed from Apple, Facebook and YouTube, I was surprised. Everybody who keeps up with media and current affairs has known about Jones and InfoWars for years. Why now?
I always thought he was strange, sometimes clownish. His media product is laced with outlandish conspiracy theories and misinformation. How could there be an audience for his stuff? Obviously, and perhaps frighteningly, there is.
According to the New York Times, the Info Wars app has surpassed Buzzfeed and The Wall Street Journal on Google. On Apple it lead MSNBC and Bloomberg.
Then I started mulling things over. If they can come after him, and Jones has 2.5 million followers, who am I? I have a small local and regional audience. I am nowhere on the social media radar. It would be too easy to shut me down without a whisper.
Perhaps, as WBAL radio talk show host Clarence Mitchell IV aka C4 articulated, it is a control issue. Should these media giants be in the business of censoring one’s speech by removing their posts and videos? Yes there are boundaries such as hate speech, incitement of violence, but beyond that, what?
I was introduced to InfoWars years ago, and I quickly dismissed it. I chose not to continue to watch it, and as a media consumer, it is my right and my choice. So anything Jones says, I take with a grain of salt. I absolutely do not allow it to affect me.
It does not matter what Jones publishes, or whether I agree with it, as long as it once again does not incite violence. He has the right to spew out as many conspiracy theories as his heart desires. Yes, he has a wide reach, but everyone has the option to tune out and not be bothered.
As C4 pointed out, that the First Amendment was designed for speech of which folks disagreed and found offensive, not of which they resonate. So as repugnant as many may find Jones, we need to defend his right to exist. Otherwise, they will eventually come for us next.
And they have. People like social media talk show host Dave Rubin and others have had their sites demonetized and removed for various reasons at different times. Rubin does not engage in conspiracy theories. Maybe because he has a niche audience that does not conform to “community standards?”
Is there a strategy? The ones in charge, whether it be the government or corporations, start out with the most extreme cases, and work their way to the most mild and nonthreatening?
9/11 was the pretext for the civil liberties and privacy violations that have occurred since. It began with the Patriot Act, then the National Defense Authorization Act, and other executive orders, laws and mandates in between. From Julian Assange of WikiLeaks to Edward Snowden, they have shown the public the dangerous erosion that has been occurring–and this is no conspiracy theory; it is factual.
Here’s another problem. You cannot censor misinformation. It is not illegal, otherwise Jones would have been in jail a long time ago. You can only counteract that with accurate information. Removing posts and videos will not curtail it. Now, Apple, Facebook, YouTube and others have given Jones and company more ammunition.
I understand the hurt and pain one can cause via the social media landscape. Adults have been stalked, minors have been bullied; a few even have committed suicide. These crimes are egregious. The offenders should be prosecuted.
I can’t imagine the suffering of the parents of the children who were murdered in Sandy Hook, and how Jones’s words applied avalanches of salt to their wounds. Thank the universe there is a whole population who is in support of them, and continues to give them nurturing as they heal.
We need to protect all citizens from hate and violence speech, which many contend Jones is doing via his followers. However, mainstream conservative critics have said the same about Black Lives Matter, whose reputation have been sullied a bit by violent unaffiliates attaching themselves to the movement.
These kind of critics had the same argument about the Black Panther Party for Self Defense who had pioneering programs like Free Breakfast and Free Health Clinics, and also declared “Off the Pigs!” referring to the Oakland, CA police force in response to police brutality.
But Jones is not an activist by any stretch of the imagination, and is not working to mend fences and build community. He has created a community of like minds, and he is dedicated and on message, much like his pal Trump. At no time did Twitter take down his page.
We cannot allow people like Jones keep our eyes off the prize, which is to create a whole and human empathetic society. To attempt to shut off their voices will add fuel to the fire. The best way is to work to create a climate where people like him do not exist anymore.
Remember the words of Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller after the rise of the Third Reich:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.