More than half of America’s 30 most politically polarizing organizations, as polled by Morning Consult, are media companies. These are not fringe publications. Rather, they are what many refer to as “mainstream media,” including such names as CNN, Fox News, NBC News, The New York Times, MSNBC News, ABC News, CBS News, The Washington Post, TIME Magazine, and more. Among these companies, journalists and news anchors regularly accuse each other of political bias leading to the deliberate manipulation and misrepresentation of facts. Moreover, President Trump regularly accuses some of the biggest names in news of being “fake news.” Perhaps this is why a quarter of all Americans (26%), and nearly half of all Republicans (43%) believe “the president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior,” according to a 2018 Ipsos public opinion survey. Increasingly, Americans on both sides of the aisle are becoming intolerant of opposing views, and those responsible for disseminating information are choosing sides based upon politics and worldview.
Project Veritas secured video of a former Twitter software engineer explaining how the censorship of certain political viewpoints is becoming automated via machine learning. Moreover, he admitted that Twitter is “shadow banning” certain viewpoints, saying, “One strategy is to shadow ban so you have ultimate control. The idea of a shadow ban is that you ban someone but they don’t know they’ve been banned, because they keep posting and no one sees their content. So they just think that no one is engaging with their content, when in reality, no one is seeing it.” Similarly, Facebook appears to have deliberately targeted conservative content. According to a Gateway Pundit study, “Facebook has eliminated 93% of traffic to top conservative news outlets” since January of 2017. And Microsoft has threatened to remove Gab, an alternative to Twitter, from its Microsoft Azure website hosting service if it fails to self-censor hate speech, pointing to specific anti-Semitic posts that must be removed.
Hate speech policies are playing a significant role in the effort to control information. The vague term “hate speech” has become a convenient catch-all for anything that either side deems to be intolerant and potentially harmful to their politics and worldview. Recently, this ambiguous category of speech was cited as justification for many of the largest technology and social media corporations’ censorship of Alex Jones who is best known for his news site InfoWars and his syndicated radio program, “The Alex Jones Show.” Within hours, Apple removed all but one of Jones’ podcasts from iTunes and its podcast apps, Facebook blocked four of Jones’ pages, Google removed the official “Alex Jones Channel” from its platform, YouTube deleted the InfoWars channel, and Pinterest eliminated the InfoWars board. In the space of a single day, a nationally known—albeit polarizing—journalist and radio host was largely purged from the internet’s largest platforms for disseminating information. Entire libraries featuring 20 years of content and channels boasting millions of subscribers were abruptly deleted because of unspecified violations of hate speech policies and hateful content that could lead to harm. And Facebook blocked Jones “for glorifying violence … and using dehumanizing language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims, and immigrants, which violates our hate speech policies.”
Eager to defend the decisions of these tech giants, several among the media pointed to four examples as justification of the censorship:
- Alex Jones propagates unverified conspiracy theories.
- A video posted by Jones showed an adult pushing a child.
- In 2016, a man fired three shots inside a restaurant endeavoring to save children who were alleged by Jones to be held captive as part of a child sex-ring involving high-ranking officials of the Democratic Party.
- Followers of Jones harassed family members of the Sandy Hook Shooting victims after Jones claimed the shooting was a staged event involving crisis actors.
The thinking seems to be that a true journalist wouldn’t propagate unverified conspiracy theories, show video of people perpetrating violence, or report news in a manner that emotionally riles people to the point that they may harass others or possibly commit violence … this despite these being the mainstay of most news coverage for years.
In the court of public opinion, the views of Alex Jones have been deemed too extreme for public consumption. Clearly, Alex Jones is a menace to society, and his hateful rhetoric and politically biased news coverage fomented a spirit of hatred and harm among his followers … or so we’ve been told. But if this is our country’s new standard for determining who should be permitted a voice in the social conversation, then something is dreadfully wrong because this standard has not been consistently applied. Consider some recent examples of people or groups whose voice has been championed and defended, despite glorifying violence and using hateful and dehumanizing language:
- Black Lives Matter – The group incited violence against police officers, justifying the violence and killing of officers as “necessary to the movement and war.” An example of the violent rhetoric used by the group might be the chant against police officers, “Pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon.” Nevertheless, this is deemed excusable because Black Lives Matter is a special interest group that is merely trying to draw attention to their issue.
- Antifa – Eventually labeled a domestic terrorist group by the Department of Homeland Security, Antifa uses weapons, shields, Molotov cocktails, and bombs to wreak havoc. Antifa regularly spews vitriolic rhetoric and relies on intimidation, group violence, and riots to accomplish its objectives. Nevertheless, this is deemed excusable because the group is opposing neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
- Comedians – When Kathy Griffins Tweeted a photo of her holding a bloody decapitated head of President Trump, she joined an ever-growing group of comedians who have crossed the line. Michelle Wolfe body shamed White House press secretary Sarah Sanders and called her a white Uncle Tom. Samantha Bee called Ivanka Trump a feckless cunt. And Stephen Colbert’s Late Show featured a segment depicting Trump aide Stephen Miller’s decapitated head on a spike. Nevertheless, this is deemed excusable because the jokes are “true,” or because nothing should be sacred or off-limits in comedy.
- Donald Trump – Trump has attacked people’s appearance, character, and intellect. Furthermore, he has glorified violence in an effort to express frustration, to engender himself to his political base, and to joke. Nevertheless, this is deemed excusable because he is simply speaking like an ordinary person and is voicing the frustration of the people.
- Peter Fonda – In response to reports of families of illegal immigrants being separated at the border, Peter Fonda Tweeted that “we should rip Barron Trump from his mother’s arms and put him in a cage with pedophiles.” Barron Trump is 12 years old. Nevertheless, this is deemed excusable because it was an explosion of emotion on Twitter in response to the devastating images that he was seeing on television.
- James Gunn – Many came to the defense of Hollywood director James Gunn when he was fired after old Tweets resurfaced in which he joked about such things as rape, pedophilia, 9/11, AIDS, and the holocaust. Nevertheless, this is deemed excusable because he is a highly successful director with a large fan base.
- Sarah Jeong – The newest member of The New York Times’ editorial board has a history of racist Tweets, even commenting, “Oh man it’s kind of sick how much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men.” Nevertheless, it is deemed excusable because other people were racist toward her first, and she was merely responding to their harassment by imitating the rhetoric of her harassers.
- Maxine Waters – At a time when people were being harassed and driven out of public venues, Representative Waters called upon her supporters to publicly harass members of the Trump administration, saying, “Let’s make sure we show up wherever we have to show up. And if you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. And you push back on them. And you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.” She later added, “The people are going to turn on them, they’re going to protest, they’re going to absolutely harass them until they decide that they’re going to tell the president, ‘No, I can’t hang with you.’” Nevertheless, this is excusable because, as a politician, she is combative and tough and true to her core values.
When the standards of “hate speech” and “dehumanizing language” are inconsistently used to suppress the voice of some and not others, we have a problem—regardless of which political side is doing this. Mainstream news networks have been accused of propagating unverified conspiracy theories and of fomenting a spirit of hatred and division that may have encouraged James Hodgkinson, who shot at Republicans during a Congressional baseball game, injuring Congressman Steve Scalise. Likewise, they have been accused of giving a platform to activists employing violent tactics, such as Black Lives Matter and Antifa, and of defending those who are harassing public figures with different political views. Therefore, the question must be asked, how is this fundamentally different from what Alex Jones is accused of?
Truth has become relative, and the concept of hate speech is the new Billy club of those who wish to suppress certain views. As such, controversies such as this feud between Alex Jones and the tech giants are nothing to be dismissed. They are not irrelevant controversies; instead, they are the front lines of the culture war, and they deserve our prayerful attention and assistance. If we ignore these battles, the culture will eventually target Christians, labeling our claim that Jesus is the only way to God as hate speech.
Fortunately, this war is not yet lost. Despite their size and influence, we’ve repeatedly witnessed these tech giants retract their efforts to censor information when the people push back. While we absolutely must take this issue before the Lord in prayer, we also have an obligation to voice our dissent. We live in a country where we as citizens bear a responsibility for the direction our country goes. As such, it is foolish for us to pray for cultural change if we are unwilling to play our part in resisting the culture. We ought to resist any effort to suppress the free market of ideas based upon politics and worldview, regardless of who or which side is doing the censoring.
Sometimes we as Christians are reluctant to engage in matters of culture because we are afraid of being seen as political partisans rather than spiritual ambassadors. But if we choose to be silent because we don’t want to be seen as being political, then we will sacrifice our greatest freedom as Americans—our ability to freely express ourselves, and therefore, to freely apply the teachings of the Bible to the culture and to people’s lives. At its heart, this is a spiritual battle being waged in the realm of social media. What is at stake is no less than our ability to speak truth, and thus to effectively uphold the Word of God and to share the gospel of Jesus Christ! Let’s stop viewing these controversies as political issues divorced from the more important spiritual matters. At times, the two are inextricably linked, and there is nothing spiritual about ignoring the political manifestation of a spiritual assault upon the truth.
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38. Hermann, Peter. “Gunman Who Shot Steve Scalise Cased Baseball Field for Weeks Before Rampage.” Chicago Tribune, October 6, 2017. Accessed August 9, 2018. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-steve-scalise-shooting-20171006-story.html.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.