Should Alex Jones be on Facebook?
Last week, the company announced that it’s taking down his pages. The reading public will have to go elsewhere to learn about the perils of routine vaccinations and the undoubtedly-many uses of a “latent iodine survival shield.” Now, given his conspiracy theories, homophobia, and more-or-less explicit white nationalism, Jones does not cut a sympathetic figure. But should the Left support his free speech rights anyway, because the same mechanisms that removed Alex Jones are also turned against leftists? Or should anti-fascists rejoice that a hard-right demagogue has lost a platform?
Leftist and social-justice social media’s been arguing the case all week. But, while the debate’s touched on free speech, no-platforming, and the power of tech companies, one question’s been lost in the shuffle:
Why does it matter?
Should we support Facebook’s action? What does “support” even mean? Will commenting on Facebook about the company’s decision change its policies, towards Alex Jones or anyone else? Facebook does as it pleases. The Left can’t change that any more than it can convince Alex Jones that floods aren’t caused by the Air Force.
So, is the issue important? The question’s empty. There are no stakes. There’s no political practice involved other than the discourse itself. It’s isolated from any kind of social power. Does it feel meaningful? Sure, but the feeling is fake – simulated politics. It’s catharsis without the trouble of leaving your front door.
Ideas are not political.
Politics is power. It’s about deciding the shape of collective life. Talking about how things should be isn’t political if it’s outside the context of organizing for power. So, neither side of the Jones debate has a political position. After all, is there anything at stake besides whether to type “this is good” or “this is bad” into a comments thread?
Social media platforms seek to maximize their own economic good as individual businesses (by engaging more people for longer, they increase the number of eyes on each ad they sell). Every post you make about whether Facebook should have deleted Alex Jones increases Facebook’s user engagement and, therefore, its profitability. But as they compete for ad revenue, social media companies also maximize the political good of the entire capitalist class: if you scratch your political itch by liking and sharing, you’re that much less likely to feel the need to stir up real-life trouble.
But why should it be either/or? Why not do politics both in person and on social media – can’t you walk and chew gum at the same time?
Well, social media “politics” isn’t zero-impact. The cost goes deeper than emotional exhaustion and wasted time – social media rewards certain styles of interaction. Controversy and hostility lead to more attention and engagement (not to mention favorable treatment from the algorithm!). It’s easy to form endlessly-specific insider cliques, and drama within them just pushes user engagement even higher. So, companies deliberately design their platforms to encourage all that.
In the field, though, that sort of behavior wrecks a fledgling project faster than you can realize it’s happening. I know a self-defense instructor who won’t let trainees directly hand each other the fake gun prop after they practice disarming a shooter – if you do it in practice, you’ll find yourself doing it in real life. The same goes for how you approach other people and form relationships. If you keep handing the algorithm the inflammatory statements and flame wars it loves, you’ll find yourself acting that way when you organize in real life. Social media takes your organizing skills and makes them worse.
You don’t have to take part. You’ll be a better organizer if you don’t.
Talk to your co-workers, your fellow-renters, your co-religionists, and your neighbors. What communities of interest are you part of? Anyone can organize their community but if you don’t do it, how will it happen? Reach out. Find your common interests. Get organized. Take collective action. Serve the people.
And then, when you’re doing real politics, it won’t matter what Facebook thinks.
is a communist and polytheist in the US Pacific Northwest. Support her on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/marxism_lesbianism