“There’s no earthly way of knowing, which direction they are going.
“There’s no knowing where they’re rowing, or which way the river’s flowing.
“Is it raining, is it snowing? Is a hurricane a-blowing?”
Remember that creepy scene in “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” when Wonka has loaded all the kids into a boat and they paddle down the chocolate river? Well, buckle your seat belts, people, ‘cuz we’re about to go on that same wild ride.
On Monday, the biggest social media companies in the world decided — collectively — to ban a single person. Apple, Facebook and YouTube wiped out years of content posted by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, along with his Infowars platforms, charging that he engages in hate speech.
“Apple does not tolerate hate speech, and we have clear guidelines that creators and developers must follow to ensure we provide a safe environment for all of our users,” Apple said in a statement.
Now, I know Alex Jones. Not well, mind you, but I’d been on his show a dozen or so years ago and we once had a few beers too many together in a Dallas hotel bar. Here’s the bottom line on Mr. Jones: He’s an entertainer. He does a daily radio show in which he screeches about everything wrong in the world today, working himself into a screamy froth, and his listeners love it.
Is he dangerous? Doubtful. In my view, he says things that’ll get ratings, and he feeds his loyal listeners what they want to hear. Does it get out there — like, waaaay out there? You bet. He says the 9-11 attacks were an inside job (Building 7, am I right?), claims the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre was a “false flag” perpetrated by actors, promotes the Pizzagate story (Democrats run a clandestine pedophilia ring), warns against the danger of fluoridation in our water, and rants about gay frogs (seriously).
Does he believe those things? Who knows. But he says them on the air, and he gets ratings.
Here’s another thing about Mr. Jones — he’s smart. Plus, he’s got connections (familial and otherwise) to people high up in U.S. intelligence, and some of the things he has claimed have turned out to be true. He was early and alone in saying that Democrats were involved in putting together a “dirty dossier” that led the feds to start surveilling the Trump campaign.
The banning of Mr. Jones from social media platforms has set off a firestorm (and by the way, it’ll have the exact opposite effect from what was intended — more people than ever will clamor to his website to hear what the now-censored host has to say.)
Not surprisingly, conservatives are more unhappy with the move than Democrats. Cries of “First Amendment rights” filled the skies on Monday night, but few Democrats were out there shouting. Instead, many just stayed quiet, happy that the left-leaning social media moguls (and they are left-leaning) had done their dirty work for them.
By Tuesday, there was a rebound effect. A new poll found that 43 percent of self-identified Republicans said they think “the president should have the authority to close news outlets engaged in bad behavior.” Only 36 percent disagreed with that statement, said the Ipsos poll provided exclusively to The Daily Beast.
President Trump has bashed the news media since he began running for the White House and has labeled such outlets as CNN and The Washington Post “fake news.” Thus, some supporters (48 percent of Republicans in the poll agreed with Mr. Trump’s claim that “the news media is the enemy of the American people”) think the president should have the right to do pretty much what Apple and Facebook did.
But it gets weirder.
Senate Democrats are reportedly circulating plans for a government takeover of the internet, Reason magazine reports.
“A leaked memo circulating among Senate Democrats contains a host of bonkers authoritarian proposals for regulating digital platforms, purportedly as a way to get tough on Russian bots and fake news. To save American trust in ‘our institutions, democracy, free press, and markets,’ it suggests, we need unprecedented and undemocratic government intervention into online press and markets, including ‘comprehensive (GDPR-like) data protection legislation’ of the sort enacted in the E.U.”
Titled “Potential Policy Proposals for Regulation of Social Media and Technology Firms,” the draft policy paper, written by Sen. Mark Warner, Virginia Democrat, “and leaked by an unknown source to Axios — the paper starts out by noting that Russians have long spread disinformation, including when ‘the Soviets tried to spread “fake news” denigrating Martin Luther King’ (here he fails to mention that the Americans in charge at the time did the same). But NOW IT’S DIFFERENT, because technology.”
So brace yourself. It’s all going to get much worse in the coming days.
And by the way, the little song Willy Wonka sings on the boat ends with these lines:
“Not a speck of light is showing, so the danger must be growing.
“Are the fires of Hell a-glowing? Is the grisly reaper mowing?
“Yes! The danger must be growing, ‘cause the rowers keep on rowing.
“And they’re certainly not showing any sign that they are slowing!”
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @josephcurl.
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