Fundamentalist Christianity taught me one thing.
Led Zeppelin made some really, really good music.
I grew up in a time in the church when evangelists would travel from town to town scaring parents about the horrors of rock and roll music. The primary weapon they used to support their claims was a phenomenon called backward masking. This is where the evangelist would play Robert Plant’s voice forward. We all heard, “Hey, hey mama see the way you move…”
But then he would play the song backwards.
Suddenly, Robert Plant's muffled, distorted voice was allegedly saying, “wardskuffff SATAN vloomc WANTS A HAMBURGER.” You could hear it as plain as day. Well, just so long as that’s what you wanted to hear.
It was terrifying. So most everyone responded by running home to grab their copies of Led Zeppelin IV or the Eagle’s Hotel California and burning them. About a week later, they would buy them again.
I was different. Hearing these songs turned me into a fan. Thank you, Mr. Fundamentalist Backward Masking Evangelist, for introducing me to some really good music. I’m sorry that your approach had the exact opposite effect on me that you were hoping for.
The folks at Facebook, YouTube, and Spotify could have learned a few lessons from the anti-rock and roll preachers of the 80s. Sometimes, when you make a big deal out of how bad something is, you end up glorifying it. Especially, as is the case with Alex Jones, when you aren’t really clear or consistent in your decision-making.
Alex Jones is off the rails. I’ve heard him with my own ears on several occasions. He speaks nuggets of truth surrounded by gobs of unfounded claims in a style that can only be described as emotionally unbalanced. He might actually be better if one of those evangelists from my childhood played him backwards.
As a result, and for reasons that I do not know but that seem a bit suspicious, several different digital platforms all decided at the same time to dump Alex Jones and his site, Infowars. Facebook, YouTube, and Spotify are the most notable companies to evict Jones from their space.
You might notice one glaring omission.
In stating why he chose to keep Jones on his platform, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey put it simply. “He hasn’t violated our rules.” Dorsey continued, “We’re going to hold Jones to the same standard we hold to every account, not taking one-off actions to make us feel good in the short term, and adding fuel to new conspiracy theories.”
Dorsey is right. When Facebook and other platforms dumped Jones, all they did was help build Alex Jones’ empire. Case in point. Several days ago, Jones had the 47th most popular news app in the United States. Shortly after the ban, it was number 4.
Essentially, Facebook played Alex Jones backwards and made him look cool.
Facebook and Twitter are private companies. They have to right to ban, promote, or keep whoever they want. But, as David French pointed out in the New York Times, Facebook’s mistake in banning Jones was that they did so with no objective standard. They stuck to the old progressive line that they, “do not promote hate speech.”
But what does that mean? For far too many people today, hate speech is anything that you don’t agree with or that makes you feel the least bit uncomfortable. Facebook would have been better off, as French notes, citing Jones’ libel and slander as reasons for their decision. “Unlike hate speech,” he writes, “libel and slander have legal meanings.”
Or they could have followed the lead of Jack Dorsey and Twitter and left him alone, knowing that kicking him to the side only gives him a bigger platform. But of course, now Jack Dorsey will probably have to deal with an angry mob the next time he eats brunch in a public place.
As I grew in my love and appreciation of music I learned that there really are some bad acts out there. There were people who sang about the devil and tried to encourage kids to kill themselves. But I didn’t need a guy playing a record backwards to show me how foolish that kind of music was. All I needed was someone teaching me the fundamentals of truth and pointing me to better options.
Alex Jones is off the rails.
But sometimes when you pull the plug on the off the rails guy, you only make him louder. You're better off just showing people something better.
When Facebook banned Alex Jones, they didn’t rid their site of outrageous claims and straight out lies. Their platform is still home to several peddlers of untruths, many of whom have excellent reputations and their own shows on major networks. That’s not to excuse Alex Jones but rather to serve as a reminder to us all that we have a responsibility to verify, filter, question, and critique the news that we consume.
Perhaps if we were all a bit more discerning, an Alex Jones ban wouldn’t have been necessary and the provocateur would be doing something else with his life.
I don’t know, like maybe traveling around and warning large audiences about the evils of modern country music. He wouldn’t even have to use backward masking. It's bad enough forward.