In the wake of several social media giants banning Alex Jones, there was much rejoicing from the left. The enforced departure of the conspiracy guru was cheered as a victory by liberals across the country. There was, however, at least one prominent liberal who bucked the trend.
Bill Maher, the far left host of HBO’s “Real Time With Bill Maher” and “Politically Incorrect,” gave the tin-foil-hat-wearing talk show host a surprising defense last Friday. Maher began the segment by saying, “Alex Jones, who is not my friend and who tells crazy lies about me is thrown off Twitter, I think, and Facebook and a few other platforms.”
“Thank God!” exclaimed Jennifer Granholm, the former Democratic governor of Michigan and a current analyst for CNN, as the audience broke into cheers and applause.
“Well, if you’re a liberal you’re supposed to be for free speech,” Maher countered.
“That’s free speech for the speech you hate. That’s what free speech means. We’re losing the thread of the concepts that are important to this country,” he continued.
“If you care about the real American shit or you don’t. And if you do, it goes for every side. I don’t like Alex Jones, but Alex Jones gets to speak. Everybody gets to speak,” Maher said.
“Sure, but he doesn’t necessarily get to speak on Facebook or Twitter,” Charlie Sykes contributing editor for the Weekly Standard, responded.
“I get that,” Maher agreed.
“If a guy goes out – and this is not opinion - if he engages in vile slander and fabrication about children who are murdered at Sandy Hook and he harasses the parents of children who were murdered at Sandy Hook … Facebook [and] Twitter don’t have an obligation to provide him a platform because they’re private companies.”
Both Maher and Sykes are absolutely correct. Censorship on social media is a free speech concern, but it is not a First Amendment issue. The First Amendment protects Americans from censorship by the government. It does not protect people from censorship by private companies who legally set the rules for behavior on the internet platforms that they own and operate.
“The way to get rid of hateful things is that sunlight is the best disinfectant,” Maher said, quoting Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis.
“A good example is the alt-right rally,” Maher continued. “They had their rally again. Twenty people showed up, okay? Not because we outlawed it, but because we let it happen the first time and these mental midgets found out, oh, it’s not so great when you do this in public because then you go back to the office and people don’t like you so much.”
While both sides of the political spectrum pay lip service to free speech, both sides are happy to censor the speech of political opponents. Liberal activists often shout down conservative speakers on college campuses and social media platforms are accused of bias against conservatives in enforcing their terms of service.
For their part, many on the right approve of using the power of government to regulate what they consider to be “fake news.” An Ipsos poll from earlier this month found that 43 percent of Republicans, a plurality, agree that “the president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior.” This would be a direct violation of the First Amendment.
I rarely get to agree with Bill Maher, but he is absolutely correct here. Freedom of speech should apply to all ideologies, but it is most important for speech that is unpopular or that we disagree with. Nothing in the Constitution or the US law prohibits us from having our beliefs challenged or guarantees the right to an uninterrupted echo chamber.
Originally published on The Resurgent