Not all ‘free expression’ is equal

The opinions stated in this article are solely those of the author and not of Iron County Today

With a Master’s Degree in journalism, I should be the last person to support any limitation on free speech. However, I was appalled and disgusted last week when an informal KSL Radio survey found that 70 percent of the station’s morning listeners favored a conspiracy theorist’s “right” to espouse silliness on Facebook and other social media platforms.

The person in question is well-known to the political fringe. Alex Jones believes, among other things, that man never landed on the moon, that the shootings of children at Sandy Hook Elementary school never happened, and the former Pres. Obama was born in Africa, not Hawaii. Mainline conservatives see him as a wacko and conservative columnist Rich Lowry describes Jones as a “poisonous toad.” Yet Jones has some 20 million followers, and it’s not uncommon to see a car with an InfoWars bumper sticker. (I never follow that car too closely, since I’m not sure how anyone who denies the Holocaust or the moon landing could have passed the written driver’s exam.)

But back to the KSL Radio survey…There is no “free speech” right on non-public forums. Facebook and social media platforms, which have temporarily banned Jones, have a perfect right to do so just as the LDS Church has the right to eject lunatic shouting anti-Mormon screeds in its chapels.  

The survey results also indicate that listeners can’t differentiate between opinion/conjecture and cold, hard facts.

For instance, we can differ on the impact of human behavior on global warming, but it is a fact that the earth is warming and the temperatures are hotter. We can argue about the Trump’s campaign’s “collusion” with Russia and Hillary Clinton’s missing e-mails, but it is a fact that Trump won the Electoral College and Clinton won the most votes in the last presidential election. We can have different opinions on Middle East policy, but it is a fact that Osama bin Laden – not George W. Bush – orchestrated the 9-11 attack in New York City.

Yes, we can debate the merits of the space program, but it’s a fact that the moon is not made of cheese. Allowing Alex Jones to spout ignorance is dangerous to rational public discourse. If a substantial number of uneducated people begin believing that Pres. Bush destroyed the Twin Towers or that Pres. Franklin Roosevelt was complicit in the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, the concept of turning out to vote begins crumbling. (If all the politicians are evil, then why should be pay federal income tax? And if we cannot trust historical documents and the court system, it follows that the income tax is not legal. And if….)

Not all “free expression” is equal. Otherwise, the claim that the U.S. has 50 states and the competing claim that we have 82 are both worthy of equal consideration.

To solve problems – and our country has a lot of them – men and women of differing interests and political leanings must accept the same facts before examining alternate solutions. Obviously, a coal producer will try and protect his turf over the complaints of a clean-air advocate, but both will have to admit the fact that burning coal detracts from healthy air.

Facts are stubborn things, but for guys like Alex Jones a fact has not more basis than any of his fantasies. Companies have the right to ban Jones from privately-owned forums, not just because he is frightening, but because the folks who believe him are equally so.

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