Call 2018 the “Year of Deplatforming.” The internet was once celebrated for allowing fresh new voices to escape the control of gatekeepers. But this year, the internet giants decided to slam the gates on a number of people and ideas they don’t like. If you rely on someone else’s platform to express unpopular ideas, especially ideas on the right, you’re now at risk. This raises troubling questions, not only for free speech but for the future of American politics and media.
The most famous victim of deplatforming is, not coincidentally, the least popular: Alex Jones, the radio host known for promoting outrageous conspiracy theories about everything from vaccinations to the Sandy Hook massacre. In a concerted action earlier this month aimed at loosely defined “hate speech,” Facebook , Apple , Spotify and YouTube removed from their services most of the material by Mr. Jones and his InfoWars network. Twitter recently followed suit with a seven-day suspension.
Their evasiveness isn’t hard to explain. After all, Mr. Jones isn’t doing anything different from what he has been doing for years. The real reason for his removal is that technology companies don’t like his views and have come under increasing pressure to deny him the use of their platforms.
Nor is it just Alex Jones who’s been subjected to digital unpersoning lately. The Austin-based “crypto-anarchist” Cody Wilson creates and distributes designs for guns that can be produced using 3-D printers. Shopify recently shut down the online storefront of Mr. Wilson’s company, Defense Distributed.