The Infowars debate and a website's whims

I’m a bit bemused by some aspects of the Infowars debate. Many sites have of course pulled the plug on Infowars but Twitter seems to be holding out on free speech grounds.

Infowars is clearly bonkers with its irrational conspiracy theories and it is close to the line — if not over it — with its far-right points of view, but the first question we have to ask is: is it illegal? If it is then it should be shut down. Not only should sites refuse to give it air time but all of Infowars’ sites and resources should be shut down and the perpetrators of the nonsense Infowars espouses should be in court.

It’s up to the legal system to determine where the line between free speech and hate speech lies. We may all have our own opinions about that and we’re free to lobby for changes as we see fit, but the law, as it stands at the moment, tells us what we can and cannot do. It has to be that way to maintain an ordered society.

But none of this relates to the point I’m trying to make here, which I’ll get to now.

Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter and such are privately controlled. They have owners, board members or CEOs who will determine the direction in which they’re going to go. Sure, they have to follow the commercial laws of the territories in which they trade, but their sites are not ‘public’ property. They are ‘private’ property and the owners of those sites can determine the rules (obviously so long as those rules respect the law). They can include or exclude content on a whim in the same way a person could include or exclude people from a party at their house based on their own personal preferences.

What I’m trying to say is you have no right to expect to be able to dictate what content a private site allows (again assuming it’s within the law … take that as a given from here on).

You have a right to complain and make a noise about it but the site in question has a right to ignore you. It also has a right to ban you for making too much noise if it wants.

The big tech sites produce terms and conditions to try and guide users but they’re often long-winded and wooly enough to allow the site to do what it wants. I don’t know why more sites simply don’t come out and say it in plain English. It is their right to permit or delete content and memberships simply because they feel like it.

That doesn’t leave you without power. You can simply not use the site and if enough people do that — thus affecting the site’s bottom line — they’ll tend to listen. If it’s a publicly listed company, a site can be pressured from the other side too; shareholders can certainly exert pressure on a company. But there should be no expectation that a site will comply with a majority of their users just because they kick up some fuss. They may back down in the face of possible lost revenue but they may not — it’s up to them.

So this article isn’t really about Infowars at all. It’s about the false rights many users of private websites feel they have. As long as they’re permitted to use said sites by the sites’ owners, they have a right to complain and post what they want, but the site in question also has the right to ban you, me or anyone else without giving any reasons.

You have no right whatsoever to use any privately owned site. You do have a right not to use any privately owned site and that’s what you should do. If Twitter’s decisions upset you then leave Twitter. Your life will not be as materially affected as you think and, if enough people do the same thing, maybe they’ll listen.

I am certainly not saying people shouldn’t complain about something they don’t like — they most certainly should and there are many platforms through which they could do so — but I am saying that there are certain expectations people have these days that are unjustified when it comes to privately owned web sites. Whilst you have a right to complain, the site in question has an absolute right to ignore you.

People often think private websites should be a democracy but they most certainly are not. That’s the point I’m trying to make.

In other circumstances I would applaud Twitter for not following the herd — and applauding Twitter goes against the grain for me — but I happen to disagree with them over the Infowars thing. If I owned Twitter, Infowars would be history but I fully defend their right to make their own choices for their own site.