3 lessons from Twitter’s decision to ban Alex Jones

In a move that countered its chief executive’s earlier statements touting free speech and eliminating bias, the controversial host has been permanently blocked from tweeting.

Weeks after platforms including YouTube, Facebook and Spotify banned “Infowars” host Alex Jones, Twitter has followed suit.

On Thursday, Twitter’s safety team tweeted its decision, which bars Jones from tweeting under his personal and “Infowars” accounts, as well as from creating new accounts:

The New York Times reported:

Twitter’s latest action cuts off Mr. Jones’s final direct channel to mainstream audiences, severely restricting his ability to attract new viewers and build his public profile. Facebook’s and YouTube’s bans have already drastically reduced his reach, according to a New York Times analysis. After the other tech companies restricted him, Mr. Jones’s Twitter account enjoyed about an 8 percent bump, or 70,000 new followers, to nearly 900,000 during a check last week, according to Social Blade, a social media data firm.

New followers are also crucial to Mr. Jones’s business hawking nutritional supplements and survival gear, which help fund his Infowars operation. Without access to mainstream social-media sites, he will increasingly be speaking to his established audience that already goes directly to Infowars.com for his shows.

The move has prompted mixed reactions from Twitter users on both ends of the political spectrum, but it offers strategic lessons to keep in mind when wading into controversial waters.

Here are three takeaways for PR pros from Twitter’s decision:

1. You can lose out by not taking a stand.

Twitter’s ban is a departure from the recent remarks of its co-founder and chief executive, Jack Dorsey, who said Twitter had to “remove all bias” when enforcing its rules. Dorsey has recently been criticized for his indecision to ban Jones, even after Twitter suspended Jones’ personal account for a week beginning Aug. 15.

The New York Times reported:

… When Facebook, Apple, YouTube and others took down Mr. Jones’s content in early August, Twitter’s chief executive, Jack Dorsey, said Mr. Jones’s posts had not violated the company’s policies. That prompted criticism, since Mr. Jones has regularly spread lies, including that the Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax.

Mr. Dorsey defended Twitter’s decision at the time, saying he would not depart from the company’s policies in response to political pressure.

A recent survey reported that the vast majority of consumers (93 percent) are more willing to buy from an organization if its chief executive shares statements about pressing issues and they agree with the sentiment.

It can be scary to speak out—and organizations might receive backlash from consumers who do not agree with the statement(s) made. However, more and more people expect leaders to say something and will criticize those who stay silent on important social concerns.

2. Assume that everyone is watching—with a video recorder in hand.

Several Twitter users and reporters have argued that Jones’ actions on Wednesday weren’t much different from his previous stunts, which had evaded Twitter’s lasting enforcement. However, Jones’ most recent attacks were captured on video and quickly spread across social media platforms.

This, combined with Twitter coming under scrutiny for its recent decisions regarding Jones, pushed the platform to finally cut off the controversial host.

CNBC reported:

The ban appears to be related to a heated exchange between Jones and a CNN reporter Wednesday, which Jones live-streamed on the Twitter-owned video service Periscope. Jones ranted at the reporter, as well as Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, following back-to-back congressional hearings where Dorsey addressed online election interference, as well as accusations of political bias and conservative censorship on the platform.

Wired reported:

[Jones] stalked behind Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey as they testified to the Senate, accosted senator Marco Rubio during a post-hearing interview, berated a CNN reporter as he stood in the hallways, and broadcast it all on Twitter, the last platform that would have him.

And it backfired.

Though Jones often records his rants, his latest were recorded by several other onlookers, capturing the harassment in real time. Even though Dorsey didn’t personally witness the attacks, it was something Twitter could no longer ignore.

Act as if someone is always watching—and recording—your actions. What might be a bad situation can quickly turn into a PR crisis with the help of video evidence and social media chatter.

3. Communicate your stance and stay on brand—or you might come off as insincere.

Mashable reported:

Though Twitter’s final decision to ban Jones was met with cheers from some onlookers, others remained critical of the timing — noting that the company only made the decision to do so one day after Dorsey personally witnessed Jones’ behavior.

Along with the kudos, Twitter is receiving backlash because it took so long to ban Jones. Dorsey’s “hands-off” approach that he’s been touting in his most recent interviews with reporters is also quite different from the quick decision to cut off Jones from his follower base on Twitter.

When you’re going to act, make sure you communicate why you’re doing it—and evaluate how the recent action stacks up against those in the past. A sudden change of heart needs an explanation to maintain consumers’ trust.

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