Information Warfare & Alex Jones: Journalistic Responsibility In A Post-Truth Era

Alex Jones, radio host and creator of the website InfoWars, speaks to members of the media in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 5, 2018. (Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg)

In Brief

  • The Facts:

    With the Alex Jones and Infowars ban, the game is changing as to how YouTube, Facebook, Apple and other social media giants feature content. Consumers of news must now be vigilant and proactive in the truth discovery process.

  • Reflect On:

    As conscious truth-seekers, what standards should we hold media sources, journalists, and corporations to? In the realm of public discourse, are popular pundits and theorists like Alex Jones held to sufficient standards of journalistic integrity?

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In our quest for truth, we all have intuitions, hunches, and personal insights that we may not be able to prove.  Whether it’s spiritual premonitions, conspiracy theories, or superstitious synchronicity, our conscious thought is an explorer in a universe of ideas, possibilities, and theories.  However, if there is no filter in place to bring form and meaning to these free-flowing ideas, the truth quickly becomes whatever we want it to be; feelings and opinions become just as “true” as verifiable, well-researched facts.

The revolutionary ideas that produced the American experiment enshrining the Enlightenment principle of freedom of expression has produced an unchained intellect.  With that conscious liberty comes a responsibility to quest for truth with journalistic integrity.  In our current media free-fall of anything goes think-pieces and political punditry, we have reached a post-truth stage in our history where “fake news” is simply whatever we want it to be, usually characterized by a viewpoint we disagree with.

As explorers of consciousness, we have a deep responsibility to substantiate our thoughts & theories in order to foster legitimate discussion of the important matters of our time.

“We risk being the first people in history to have been
able to make their illusions so vivid, so persuasive,
so ‘realistic’ that they can live in them.” — Daniel J. Boorstin, The Image: A Guide to
Pseudo-Events in America (1961)

Alex Jones & The “Mainstream” Media

By now, everyone has chimed in on the concerted effort among major companies (YouTube, Facebook, Apple) to ban Alex Jones & Infowars from its platforms.  Many in the conscious community remember when Alex first came on the scene in Austin, Texas where he developed his signature gravelly voice that shouted conspiracy from the mountaintop. Since his early underground days on community radio, Jones has ascended in popularity and has become a prominent voice in media buoyed by audiences fascinated with his conspiratorial takes and fervent support of President Trump (who granted Infowars White House press passes after his election in 2016).

Jones and his supporters continually lambast the “mainstream media” when framing commentary on global events.  However, Alex Jones has become mainstream media, boasting view stats in the billions with subscribers in the millions that rival and eclipse traditional media giants like CNN and NBC.

Since Jones was banned, his Infowars app has surged on the Google Play and iTunes charts, ranking third among trending apps behind only Twitter and News Break.  It’s important to acknowledge just how vast the Alex Jones audience has become, and the bulk of his viewers solely rely on Infowars for information gathering on political and global events.

Ironically, the ascent of Alex Jones into the mainstream has been buoyed by Facebook & YouTube, who actively promoted and pushed out Alex Jones content in their respective feeds as his popularity sky-rocketed and his content raked in considerable advertisement profits for the Silicon Valley behemoths.  But unlike newspapers and traditional media sources who are liable for what they publish, Facebook & YouTube have been shielded from liability in the U.S. for what their users publish – which largely has resulted in the quest for truth taking a back-seat to the quest to go virile.

Freedom Of Speech & Responsibility

The aptly named “Infowars” is emblematic of the information war that is currently taking place in America.  From traditional media giants like Fox, CNN & MSNBC to emerging internet media forces like The Young Turks, Mark Dice & Secular Talk, there is a jockeying for power and news authority that is shaking up the global political landscape – and this is significantly changing how (and what) people think.

Indeed, freedom of speech and a free press is something that truth-seekers should hold sacred, but Jones being banned is not about freedom of speech.  Jones is free to broadcast his message as he sees fit – but that doesn’t guarantee that private companies like YouTube and Facebook will feature his content.

An important question that must be answered in response to the ban is this: What responsibility should Alex Jones, YouTube & Facebook assume in presenting “truth” to audiences?  While many say that they should bear no responsibility as it pertains to journalistic integrity, what effect is that having on our aggregate consciousness?  America is in a mental health crisis.  Suicides are increasing at alarming rates, iPhones, social media and technology have dominated the lives of young children with distraction and fantasy. Reality is becoming so abstract that more and more are losing grip on their day-to-day lives, opting to live in a world where truth is malleable and whatever you want it to be.

Media sources like Infowars that purposely and knowingly perpetuate false information and sensationalized conspiracy under the guise of “the truth that the mainstream media won’t tell you” have significantly contributed to the growing American population that is misinformed and increasingly mentally unstable.

“Every single school/public shooting is a hoax staged with crisis actors.” “Queen Elizabeth is converting to Islam and is a Jihadi.”  “Democrats (and only Democrats) are running a global prostitution ring.” “Obama is having sex with 10 men a day on taxpayer dime.”

The aforementioned are actual quotes and takes from recent Alex Jones broadcasts, and they are seeding millions of minds with precisely what they are purportedly railing against: Fake News.  In effect, Jones has produced the same kind of disinformation that he accuses “The Liberal Left” of producing – and that has a very real effect on public consciousness.  In order to educate, enlighten, and challenge the conventionally programmed mind, you must credibly appeal to truth.  You cannot do that when you are peddling junk theories.  There are real instances of false flag events and manipulated events for geopolitical gain without us pressing to find conspiracy where there is none.

There are real global cabals and child prostitution rings to expose and bring to justice without us having to go down a rabbit hole of gutter dialogue, obsessing over “Pizzagate” and other poorly evidenced theories while actual instances of human trafficking are taking place right in front of our eyes. There is a real war on our planet, environment and bodily integrity without entertaining lunatic claims that “they are putting chemicals in the water that make frogs gay!”

This is not to say that there aren’t legitimate grievances and critiques of traditional media.  The American public’s faith in the media is at a historic law – and there is good reason for that.  The level of discourse, global news coverage, and critical thinking displayed on CNN, NBC, & Fox are numbingly restrictive, biased, and dishonest.  Major newspapers were complicit in presenting false and poorly sourced information to readers that precipitated the criminal and illegal Iraq War.  The New York Times (and others) peddled conspiracy theories from the NeoCon Bush Administration which knowingly lied and deceived Americans with lies and false information – and this greatly influenced public opinion in the lead-up to the war.

Both things can be true: Our media institutions have often failed to enlighten and inform us – *and* Alex Jones is contributing to the post-truth movement that is further skewing truth in favor of journalistic anarchy and chaos.  There are kernels of truth that can be found on Infowars, just as there are kernels of truth to be found within traditional, “mainstream” media.  But what separates the real from the fake are journalists and media that take deep personal responsibility in presenting information, news & intelligence that is in service to truth, and not just in service to shares, likes, views & trending statistics regardless of the actual integrity of the content.

While many rail against the New York Times or the Washington Post, there is a level of journalistic standard (citation, sourced information, liability for slander/libel) that is too often absent from alternative news.  As writers within conscious media, we should take that responsibility to heart as we are already exploring thought forms, theories, and ideas that are often outside of the parameters of what the restrictive corporate media sources will broadcast and publish.  It is imperative that we report and explore ideas with integrity, and that means thoroughly investigating, researching, and filtering our ideas and claims before blindly adopting popularized conspiracy theory that has no firm grounding to stand on.

Unintended Consequences of “Chilling” Alex Jones Content

Regardless of whether you resonate with Alex Jones and his content, the larger question to explore is the implication of banning his content on YouTube, Facebook and other mainstream platforms.  As reported above, Infowars has gained massive popularity and its app has soared since the ban.  Banning Jones only increases his allure and – in effect – martyrs Jones and Infowars, giving credence to supporters who feel that his message is being chilled and suppressed by the Deep State.

This type of censorship often produces unintended consequences.  For example, Europe has criminalized the denial of the holocaust.  The result of that has seen more people in Europe actually denying the holocaust, as their viewpoint gets pushed to the fringes and foments rebellion amongst those who declare that the State is suppressing their voice.  America leans more heavily on free speech than any country in the world, creating an environment where there’s a competition of opposing views and a marketplace of ideas.

This traditional American defense of freedom of speech posits the notion that the way to challenge the false claims of someone like Alex Jones is to challenge that viewpoint, expose it, and present an argument so that readers/viewers can make up their own mind.  The censorship of Jones is a relative divorce from this principle, and there is legitimate concern as to whether a precedent will be set to ban other commentators and media sources simply because they report, write, and opine on controversial topics and conspiracy.

Unlike authoritarian regimes in China and Russia, American jurisprudence has long held that the State is not permitted to infringe upon free speech unless speech directly incites violence.  Given the immense power and influence of giant companies like Facebook and YouTube, the question that is now being presented is whether they are the proper arbiters of truth and permissible dialogue.  Facebook & YouTube have never been neutral in presenting information.  They control timelines and push certain content that is trending in order to increase their advertisement sales, viewership, and profitability – which is one reason why Alex Jones became so popular in the first place.  Just as our very own Joe Martino reported earlier this week, Facebook deliberately governs the content that you see and thus can greatly influence (or diminish) any organization’s reach and view-power.

Relying on Facebook & YouTube – en masse – for information and access to news is problematic in itself – and this challenges consumer behavior to be proactive in its quest for information.  Taking control of the narrative by not being simply a receiver of a manipulated timeline will become paramount.  Visiting websites directly will become an important way to sift through the emerging regulation and censorship that will change the way companies like YouTube and Facebook operate.  While they’ve been immune from liability for slander and defamation (unlike traditional newspapers and media), the U.S. Congress is intent on taking away the absolute shield of protection for these corporations.  Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) actually wrote the law himself (circa 1996) which prevented internet companies from being sued over user-generated content.

Earlier this week he stated,

“I just want to be clear, as the author of Section 230, the days when these pipelines are considered neutral are over.”

This signals a new era of social media regulation that will have significant impact on how news and opinion are presented on platforms like YouTube and Facebook.   This presents a challenge to you: the truth-seeker; the information gatherer; the critical thinker. How active will you be in seeking out truth?  Will you rely on the State for your information? Will you rely on YouTube and Facebook for your information?  Will you actively search for and frequent the journalism and viewpoints that resonate with you, regardless of censorship?

As journalists, will we take more responsibility in our own viewpoints, ensuring that standards of empirical truth and grounded arguments are upheld? We are at a dangerous point in our history as it pertains to steering the collective consciousness of the planet.  Now more than ever, discernment and active participation in creating the narrative of now is a task that cannot be left to the control of someone or something else.  As with everything else, it starts from within to where we are self-reliant in our quest for truth. Once we take that responsibility within ourselves, we will see that moral imperative extended to institutions (like Big Media) which have too often twisted reality via half-truths and mis-truths to service veiled agendas.

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