Slate: Who voted for Apple to deal with Alex Jones?

Excerpted from Isaac Chotiner‘s interview with Barry Lynn, executive director of the Open Markets Institute:


What was your first thought when you found out that Alex Jones was going to be essentially banned from various platforms?

It was a complex set of thoughts. Alex Jones is somebody… there are a lot of problems with who he is and what he is advocating. And the less of Alex Jones there is, my sense is, the better. At the same time, I have some concerns about how the decisions are being made and who is making those decisions…

In the case of, say, Apple taking Alex Jones out of iTunes, that is a decision by a very large private corporation about the distribution of information in what arguably should be an open-market system. And in the case of his work on Facebook, the decision is being made by the executives at Facebook. Decisions about who get to speak and how they get to speak on basic communications platforms are really decisions for the people of the United States to make. Back in the 1930s and 1940s, we didn’t have the executives of AT&T making decisions about who could speak on AT&T.

You said “the people” should be making these decisions, not the head of Facebook. Wouldn’t one argument be that we as a democratic society have chosen to empower these companies, chosen to give them our power, and chosen to allow them to become monopolies in some sense?

I don’t think anyone voted on any of those things. Did anyone vote to make Google and Facebook monopolies. Did anyone vote to say we are going to make private actors makes these decisions? There hasn’t been such a vote. People are just waking up to the fact that these guys are monopolies. People are just waking up to the fact that these guys have built these machines and amplified these kinds of voices… Remember that this is a two-edged story. Any time you say that you are going to allow for this type of private action or private censorship, it is something that can be used against your friends next year, tomorrow.

My take: Lynn knows enough Constitutional law not to claim that Apple has violated Jones’ first-amendment rights. But his “who voted for these monopolies” argument doesn’t hold much water in Apple’s case. Apple is a monopoly on its platform the way the New York Times is on its distribution network. Alex Jones has about as much chance of getting published on the Times’ OpEd page as a camel passing through the eye of a needle.