“Infowars” host Alex Jones says he fights for “freedom and liberty,” but his brawls will have to take place off many social media platforms.
In the past week, mounting backlash from social media users and reporters have caused companies such as Facebook, YouTube and Apple to take a stand against Jones’ content—in the form of permanently removing him from their sites.
The great de-platforming of Alex Jones began last week, when Spotify and Stitcher removed Infowars podcasts from their respective networks. (Spotify initially removed a handful of episodes before removing whole shows.)
Thanks for your note. We have reviewed Alex Jones’ podcasts and found he has, on multiple occasions, harassed or allowed harassment of private individuals and organizations, (1/2)
— Stitcher (@Stitcher) August 3, 2018
and that harassment has led listeners of the show to engage in similar harassment and other damaging activity. Therefore, we have decided to remove his podcasts from the Stitcher platform. (2/2)
— Stitcher (@Stitcher) August 3, 2018
On Sunday, Apple removed Jones’ podcast from iTunes, saying the host violated its guidelines.
“Apple does not tolerate hate speech, and we have clear guidelines that creators and developers must follow to ensure we provide a safe environment for all of our users,” the company said in a statement to The Washington Post. “Podcasts that violate these guidelines are removed from our directory making them no longer searchable or available for download or streaming. We believe in representing a wide range of views, so long as people are respectful to those with differing opinions.”
Several social media platforms quickly announced similar actions.
Apple’s move was followed almost immediately by a rash of similar moves. Facebook removed Jones’ pages, citing repeated hate speech violations. YouTube followed suit, terminating an account that had 2.4 million subscribers. Pinterest came next.
[YouTube] issued a statement that didn’t refer to Jones by name, saying only that: “All users agree to comply with our terms of service and community guidelines when they sign up to use YouTube. When users violate these policies repeatedly, like our policies against hate speech and harassment, or our terms prohibiting circumvention of our enforcement measures, we terminate their accounts.”
A lengthy press release on Facebook’s newsroom read, in part:
As a result of reports we received, last week, we removed four videos on four Facebook Pages for violating our hate speech and bullying policies. These pages were the Alex Jones Channel Page, the Alex Jones Page, the InfoWars Page and the Infowars Nightly News Page. In addition, one of the admins of these Pages – Alex Jones – was placed in a 30-day block for his role in posting violating content to these Pages.
Since then, more content from the same Pages has been reported to us — upon review, we have taken it down for glorifying violence, which violates our graphic violence policy, and using dehumanizing language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims and immigrants, which violates our hate speech policies.
All four Pages have been unpublished for repeated violations of Community Standards and accumulating too many strikes. While much of the discussion around Infowars has been related to false news, which is a serious issue that we are working to address by demoting links marked wrong by fact checkers and suggesting additional content, none of the violations that spurred today’s removals were related to this.
Spotify also announced additional measures.
The Washington Post reported:
… Last week, Spotify removed only certain episodes of the podcast, but the music-streaming company said the program continued to defy its rules against hate content. “We take reports of hate content seriously and review any podcast episode or song that is flagged by our community,” the company said in a statement to The Post. “Due to repeated violations of Spotify’s prohibited content policies, The Alex Jones Show has lost access to the Spotify platform.”
Even YouPorn announced that it was removing content related to Alex Jones, though there were no pornographic videos of him on the site.
YouPorn also removed any spoof Alex Jones content and banned him from hosting content on the website.
Vice chairman of YouPorn Charlie Hughes said: ‘Following the news that YouTube, Spotify and Facebook has banned Alex Jones from their platforms, team YouPorn is joining in solidarity and announcing we are banning his content as well.
‘As one of the largest user generated platforms in the world, we have already removed his videos that violated our terms of service.’
The moves to ban Jones came as a surprise to many—in large part because several platforms previously refused to remove him.
The Verge reported:
The biggest criticism of Jones and Infowars centers on the seemingly endless torrent of conspiracy theories that were a part of the network’s regular programming — including the idea that the Sandy Hook shooting was entirely staged with paid “crisis actors” and that global pedophilia rings are run by Hollywood and DC elites. Despite being patently false, as well as involved with the incitement of real-world physical violence, some platforms, including Facebook, initially declined to ban Jones from its platform even while acknowledging the damage he does while spreading false information.
However, growing backlash meant that online platforms could no longer sidestep the controversy without taking a stand.
As the internet’s largest podcast platform, Apple faced pressure all week from media and activists to remove Jones and Infowars from its services. Sleeping Giants, the online activist group that has lobbied for tech platforms to cut all ties with Jones, roundly condemned Apple last week for being slow to join Spotify and Stitcher, suggesting Jones’ content routinely breaks the company’s terms of service.
Only a few platforms are are enabling Jones to still have a presence on their sites, namely Twitter (on which Jones boasts 847,000 followers).
… Some media outlets have noted that despite Apple’s removal of Jones’s shows from its Podcasts platform, the Infowars app is still available on Apple’s mobile app store, where it currently has a 5-star rating. Similarly, Infowars’ 4.9-rated Android app is still available in the Google Play store.
The New York Times’ reporter Jack Nicas tweeted:
A Twitter spokesman has gotten back to us to say Alex Jones and Infowars do not currently violate Twitter’s rules.
— Jack Nicas (@jacknicas) August 6, 2018
The spokesman said Infowars accounts also don’t violate Periscope rules.
— Jack Nicas (@jacknicas) August 6, 2018
Ultimately, the choice to remove Jones was a necessary PR move, as the tech companies involved looked to separate themselves from the growing crisis.
The swiftness of these removals highlights a truth that many tech companies don’t want to fully acknowledge in an age of increased ideological polarization among their users: The idea of “protecting free speech” isn’t actually a hard-and-fast policy on their sites, but rather an increasingly handy excuse they can use to avoid taking controversial action.
That’s almost certainly why, as soon as Apple took the step of entirely banning Jones and his content, the cudgel fell: All of a sudden, the more controversial action would have been to allow Jones and Infowars to remain. And so sites that just a week ago were tentatively committed to protecting Jones’s “free speech” couldn’t about-face fast enough.
It also highlights platforms’ struggles to stop the spread of fake news. Though Facebook said in its press release that Jones’ removal wasn’t due to fake news, the company reminded readers of what it’s doing to stop the spread of misinformation:
People can say things on Facebook that are wrong or untrue, but we work to limit the distribution of inaccurate information. We partner with third-party fact checkers to review and rate the accuracy of articles on Facebook. When something is rated as false, those stories are ranked significantly lower in News Feed, cutting future views by more than 80%.
When it comes to our Community Standards, they’re focused on keeping people safe. If you post something that goes against our standards, which cover things like hate speech that attacks or dehumanizes others, we will remove it from Facebook.
What do you think of the recent bans, PR Daily readers?