Mark Thompson

I 18C what you did there: Banning Alex Jones changes nothing

With Alex Jones run out of town and Blair Cottrell kicked off Sky News, it seems a golden week. However, just as it went with 18C, no meaningful battle has been won.

 

 

I remember when I first saw Alex Jones. It was past the hour of two and Julian Assange had emerged from the darkness of the Ecuadorian conference room, making promises of an earth shattering nature. The announcement was televised by something called Infowars. Atop a throne of running ticker nonsense sat a regally stout man, a man with eyes afire, and voice a-wobbled, counting down the clock to the announcement by flogging protein supplements and branded merch.

He was America’s shameful, bargained, failed erection. A force of anger, and resolve, and excuses. Talk was a used as a substitute for the sweaty action we were denied.

That was Alex Jones.

I was struck by the feeling that while I didn’t take him seriously, clearly some did. After all, he was brazen enough to slap a logo on a mug and assume people would buy it, in order to show their circle that they believed what he said was true.

Overnight, the internet’s foremost frog conspiracy theorist/protein scoffer suffered a vicious reverse, as Apple, Youtube and Facebook have struck him down, citing many violations of many guidelines, but the subtext is clear, you can read it in the smug lines of this CNN anchor: You lose! Good-day, sir.

We stand at a precarious spot, as the populace loves nothing more than a ban. If we can’t have it, it’s worth having. Added to the fact is that making a stand in the age of the internet is impossible, as whatever the point, the opposite can also be true.

Much like, say a man who claimed that a school shooting was a school play could be seen as a martyred hero.

 

 

Alex Jones is a joke. And he’s a joke that makes jokes. But he represents something we’re struggling to define. Free speech. We saw the same issue in this country with Bill Leak and 18C. It wasn’t that the things that were being said were worthwhile, after all, the legislation states:

(1) It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:

(a) the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and

(b) the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.

It was more the opportunity to say it. Bill Leak’s death and our fragmental attention span saw the issue dwindle to a close, but it was an assumed close. People still feel they have the right to say these things/not say these things, on-trend legal shorthand or no. Blair Cottrell’s recent appearance on Sky News attests to this, as does the rhetoric that continued from the man in question, after Sky apologised for putting him on:

 

 

Kicking him off television confirmed two things. It confirmed that we have no stomach for him, and conversely, that we’re exactly what he thought we were. Both parties are emboldened, both continue. It’s confirmation bias. It went the same way with 18C, both parties retreated to their starting point, with fists balled and pulses raised. On that point, should we have fans of Adolf Hitler on television? Probably not, but thinking that a public de-pantsing is a total victory, no.

It’s exactly the same with Alex Jones. While his theories might be less available, the force that grew his followers did not dissipate, nor was the swinging of the boom on his bulbous neck the signal to pack up and go home. While the emoji-laden headlines might congratulate themselves with a victory won, and smugness might deposit them to the nearest bin, know that mould grows in bins, and life finds a way. Peep this. If Alex Jones, Blair Cottrell or whoever cease to exist, a new set of reviled names will emerge. It’s the same for the opposite side. If conservative forces strike down a progressive, then the progressives will be emboldened to prop up a new, stronger voice.

The entirety of this war of opinion circles around the original sin. A differing of definition.

That old lie, that freedom of speech means freedom of speech.

 

 

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