One of my favorite Internet finds of all time is a Bon Iver-esque cover of radio host Alex Jones’s craziest statements. The video renders Jones’s angry, conspiratorial tenor as beautifully hilarious indie rock song. While the parody video remains available on YouTube; Jones’s InfoWars content is not. Facebook, YouTube, Apple Podcasts, Vimeo and Spotify have removed InfoWars and Alex Jones from their platforms.

As it turns out, everyone is entitled to his or her own opinions, but that doesn’t confer a corresponding right to someone else’s stage. Hasty reactions could easily lead to horrible public policies, so it’s worth a moment to carefully consider private censorship on such a massive scale.

Accustomed to free speech and a free press, most Americans understandably bristle at the very idea of censorship. We don’t like it when views like ours are suppressed–especially when we perceive opposing voices being elevated. The immediate reaction is that such censorship violates our First Amendment rights.

That’s frequently not the case.

Generally speaking, the First Amendment limits government’s ability to restrict speech. When we’re talking about Apple, Google, Facebook or other private companies, the First Amendment generally isn’t in play absent government engagement.

To be fair, these are some of the largest companies in the world wielding historically unprecedented access to the public. Each of them has developed their own standards and censorship policies. They don’t carry the force of law, but their application is quite significant for users who lose access to such massive online audiences.

We should reject the knee-jerk reaction to heavily regulate tech companies as public utilities. Consider public utility markets for electricity. Government sanctioned monopolies stifle innovation, invite political cronyism and provide fewer options for consumers. Do we really want to impose that model on the various social media platforms we enjoy?

Laws forcing equal access and airtime for political perspectives and various ideologies are similarly misguided. We shouldn’t impose another version of the Federal Communications Commission’s now-defunct fairness doctrine by creating a government arbiter of whether social media access and content is “honest, equitable and balanced.” The last thing we should do right now is give government more power to restrain speech and press.

But that doesn’t mean consumers are without recourse.

First, expecting companies to disclose their censorship criteria is imminently reasonable. Many of them already do in their terms of use, but they’re not always easy to decipher. Consumers should be able to know whether and how their posts are screened. That’s not a significant imposition on the companies, but it does inform the marketplace and give consumers choices. Even if the standard is as broad as “we block content we don’t like,” users of the platform should have clarity about the rules of the platform without having to hunt them down.

Second, markets matter. Whether we like it or not, it isn’t difficult to imagine social media following the trajectory of our cable news. If specific demographics and ideologies don’t feel they’re being treated fairly by incumbent companies, they’ll look for alternatives in the social media space. New competitors won’t easily catch the large numbers of users on a platform like Facebook, but tech markets can change extremely quickly. Just ask Webcrawler or AOL Instant Messenger.

On the other hand, we could just start being Americans who know right from wrong.

We should stop posting or repeating statements we know–or reasonably should know–are false. When people behave like racists or misogynists, we should call them out and encourage them to change. Imagine how much calmer our online experience would be if we simply stopped for two seconds to think about whether we’d appreciate being on the receiving end of the inflammatory barrage we’re about to unleash. It’s not an easy choice because it means confronting friends and family who seem to believe the Internet is a character-free zone.

We must exercise our constitutionally protected rights responsibly. Expecting tech companies to either operate as our moral compasses or permit hatefully destructive content on their platforms isn’t reasonable. Rather than being outraged about corporate moral judgments, we should bemoan the widespread lack of personal discretion which makes those policies seem necessary.

We must be aware of what we’re posting online. Thankfully I have plenty of friends who check me if I put up suspect content. I need to return the favor. When I see people I care about sharing InfoWars material or the latest Alex Jones rant, I should mention that Jones fuels outrage, doesn’t provide reliable information, and literally sells brain supplement pills. It won’t always change minds, but it might make them think before their next post.

Most of us could stand to be more critical of our media choices. It’s a tall order, but it’s a lot better than having someone from Washington, D.C. or Silicon Valley decide for us.

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