When then-Gov. Deval Patrick stepped to the microphone for the first press conference the evening of the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, the first question stopped him and nearly everyone in attendance in their tracks.
“Why were the loud speakers telling people in the audience to be calm moments before the bombs went off?” the questioner asked. “Is this another false flag staged attack to take our civil liberties and promote homeland security while sticking their hands down our pants on the streets?”
Patrick simply answered “no” and moved on but the inquiry hung over it and took hold among the aluminum hat crowd. The questioner was later identified as Dan Bidondi, a talk show host for the right-wing conspiracy website InfoWars, run by conservative provocateur Alex Jones, according to the authors of the book Boston Strong.
The anecdote is telling in the wake of the decision by some of the biggest tech companies – Facebook, Google, and Apple – to remove InfoWars content from their platforms and ban Jones under their policies of hate speech, bullying, and false news.
The decisions by the tech giants were the culmination of warnings and selective removal of InfoWars videos and posts by Jones. Over the weekend, Apple deleted five podcasts by Jones that were on iTunes and then the floodgates opened with Facebook, YouTube, and Spotify sealing off Jones and his followers.
“We believe in giving people a voice, but we also want everyone using Facebook to feel safe,” the company said in a statement. “It’s why we have community standards and remove anything that violates them, including hate speech that attacks or dehumanizes others.”
It’s a slippery slope to determine whether Jones behaviors were so offensive and egregious as to warrant the ban or, as he and his followers claim, a result of trying to silence conservative speech they don’t agree with? Clearly, not everyone concurs that Jones is a risk to society as Twitter says he has done nothing to violate its policies.
“Who the hell made Facebook the arbiter of political speech?” tweeted US Sen. Ted Cruz, whose father has been the focus of some of Jones’ conspiracy claims about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. “Free speech includes views you disagree with.”
But as the Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once wrote, “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.” And that’s where the divide over Jones and InfoWars comes in.
Jones, whose election year rantings were often retweeted or picked up and repackaged by then-candidate Donald Trump, and his acolytes have a propensity for spouting conspiracy theories that attempt to undermine attacks by opponents against right-wing causes and ideology. In addition to the Boston Marathon “false flag” claim, Jones is currently being sued for defamation by parents whose children were killed in the Sandy Hook massacre. Jones has questioned whether the attack really happened and called some of the parents and children “actors.”
Jones also had to apologize after he pushed a preposterous conspiracy theory about a child sex ring involving Hillary Clinton and her then-campaign manager John Podesta that allegedly was being run out of a Washington pizza shop. Jones’ apology came after a North Carolina man went to the Comet Ping Pong restaurant with an assault weapon to “self-investigate” Jones’ claims and fired some shots inside the establishment.
There’s no doubt Jones spouts some absurd, even dangerous, claims. But is he responsible for others actions? The decisions by the tech companies would say yes. And, despite claims by Jones and others, it is not censorship since they are private companies and have the right to do what they want.
But it also toes the line on the argument by those championing net neutrality that allowing mega-corporations to control the internet gives them the power to decide what you see and hear rather than a free-flow of news and information, whether you agree with it or not. So far, though, none of those folks have come to Jones’s defense.
A restoration of the Senate chamber at the State House goes on and is scheduled for completion by January. The picture of the staging in the chamber is pretty impressive. (WBUR)
Jim Braude thinks the state’s full-time Legislature should actually work, you know, full time rather than take five months off every two years to run for reelection when most of them have no opponents anyway. (Greater Boston)
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh says he is “concerned” that a nonprofit center stopped police from entering to come to the aid of another officer under attack inside and says he plans to talk with officials at the center to determine what happened and how to avoid the same problem in the future. (Boston Herald)
A Lowell Sun editorial urges City Manager Eileen Donoghue and the City Council to hold the line on union pay hikes.
Some vendors are wondering why, after years of rejecting permits, Brockton health officials are allowing a single food truck operator from East Bridgewater to offer his wares at city-sponsored events. The operator has a monopoly on the street food business. (The Enterprise)
Rick Gates, the one-time right-hand man for Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort who is on trial for bank and tax fraud, testified he committed crimes with his former mentor in hiding payments from foreign governments. (New York Times)
North Dakota is taking criminal justice reform to a whole new level, patterning its correctional system on the approach used in Norway, which rejects life sentences and solitary confinement in favor of human-scale living quarters, behavioral counseling, and a focus on successful re-entry into society. (Governing)
The US is restoring sanctions against Iran over the objections of European allies following President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the international deal that sought to limit the country’s nuclear weapons program. (New York Times)
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Gonzalez, at a meeting with editors of the Daily Item, says he would support extending the Blue Line to Lynn.
Lowell Sun columnist Peter Lucas discounts a lot of the “fame” Sen. Barbara L’Italien has garnered in the Third Congressional District race. “Fame is fickle. Sometimes it blows up in your face,” he said.
Beth Lindstrom, a Republican US Senate candidate, calls on incumbent Sen. Elizabeth Warren to apologize for her comment that the criminal justice system is racist. (MassLive)
The National Republican Congressional Committee named Peter Tedeschi a Young Guns contender, the second phase of its Young Guns program. Tedeschi is running against US Rep. William Keating.
The Boston Globe does a takeout on Wayfair, the booming, home-grown, online furniture retailer that has yet to turn a profit.
Massport gave Korean Air $1 million to launch services to Logan. The $1 million is split between $350,000 in actual marketing funds and $650,000 in forgiven landing fees over two years. (Boston Globe)
Don Chiofaro used a visual aid (a big arrow) to help members of the public visualize how his plan to redevelop the Boston Harbor Garage would actually create a bigger sight-line to the harbor. (Boston Globe)
Greyhound Friends, a rescue shelter in Hopkinton that was closed after its executive director was accused of fiscal mismanagement and improper care of the dogs, has reached a deal with the Attorney General to reopen with tighter oversight and an agreement that the ousted head cannot be employed or sit on the Board of Directors. (MetroWest Daily News)
Peabody is planning a pop-up children’s museum. (Salem News)
Lahey Health CEO Howard Grant is stepping down next month as his hospital system and Beth Israel Deaconess pursue a megamerger. (Boston Globe)
The troubled Steamship Authority had yet another Martha’s Vineyard ferry cancellation as a faulty charging connection drained the boat’s batteries. The authority has had hundreds of cancellations since the beginning of the year for a number of mechanical and engineering failures. (Cape Cod Times)
A new report reveals that Eversource Energy offered to withdraw from a group of utilities evaluating bids for offshore wind contracts because the company was also bidding on the contracts. The company said sitting on both sides of the negotiating table could undermine confidence in the process. Eversource subsequently decided to remain as part of the evaluation team, but isn’t saying what prompted its concern about appearances so far into the process. (CommonWealth)
Movin’ on up: Plymouth beaches were closed after a confirmed great white shark sighting off Manomet. (Patriot Ledger)
Two California wildfires have grown to become the most destructive infernos on record. (Washington Post)
Wynn Resorts brings aboard Phil Satre, a long-time casino executive who will take over as chairman of the board later this year. The move was part of a settlement with Elaine Wynn, the company’s largest shareholder. (Bloomberg) Meanwhile, an internal committee of the board has wrapped up its investigation of allegations of sexual misconduct against Steve Wynn. Company officials said the findings will be shared with gaming regulators in Massachusetts but won’t be released until after the agency issues its own findings. (Associated Press)
Filings in district courts across Massachusetts are down 36.5 percent between 1998 and 2017 as arrests decline and more and more civil disputes are resolved outside court through arbitration. (Metrowest Daily News)
Margaret Heckler, a former diplomat, White House cabinet secretary, and eight-term Massachusetts congresswoman, at 87. (Boston Globe)