Twitter has finally taken action against Infowars creator Alex Jones, but it isn’t what you might think. While Apple, Facebook, Google/YouTube, Spotify and many others have removed Jones and his conspiracy-peddling organization Infowars from their platforms, Twitter has remained unmoved with its claim that Jones hasn’t violated rules on its platform. That was helped in […]
Twitter has finally taken action against Infowars creator Alex Jones, but it isn’t what you might think.
Twitter is punishing Jones for a tweet that violates its community standards but it isn’t locking him out forever. Instead, a spokesperson for the company confirmed that Jones’ account is in “read-only mode” for up to seven days.
That means he will still be able to use the service and look up content via his account, but he’ll be unable to engage with it. That means no tweets, likes, retweets, comments, etc. He’s also been ordered to delete the offending tweet — more on that below — in order to qualify for a fully functioning account again.
That restoration doesn’t happen immediately, though. Twitter policy states that the read-only sin bin can last for up to seven days “depending on the nature of the violation.” We’re imagining Jones got the full one-week penalty, but we’re waiting on Twitter to confirm that.
Abuse: You may not engage in the targeted harassment of someone, or incite other people to do so. We consider abusive behavior an attempt to harass, intimidate, or silence someone else’s voice.
When you consider the things Infowars and Jones have said or written — 9/11 conspiracies, harassment of Sandy Hook victim families and more — the content in question seems fairly innocuous. Indeed, you could look at President Trump’s tweets and find seemingly more punishable content without much difficulty.
But here we are.
The weirdest part of this Twitter caning is one of the reference points that the company gave to media. These days, it is common for the company to point reporters to specific tweets that it believes encapsulate its position on an issue, or provide additional color in certain situations.
In this case, Twitter pointed us — and presumably other reporters — to this tweet from Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson:
Alex Jones has been suspended by Twitter for 7 days for a video talking about social media censorship. Truly, monumentally, beyond stupid.
On the same day that the Infowars website was brought down by a cyber attack.
YouTube, Facebook, Spotify, Apple, Pinterest and now Vimeo have removed Infowars content from their services. The video streaming platform is the latest in a growing wave of tech companies pull videos from embattled right wing conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones. Jones has been under fire for years over conspiracy driven output, surrounding events like the Sandy […]
YouTube, Facebook, Spotify, Apple, Pinterest and now Vimeo have removed Infowars content from their services. The video streaming platform is the latest in a growing wave of tech companies pull videos from embattled right wing conspiracy theorist, Alex Jones.
Jones has been under fire for years over conspiracy driven output, surrounding events like the Sandy Hook shooting and 9/11. In spite of what are largely regarded as fringe views, however, he’s amassed a massive viewership, and even scored an interview with Donald Trump in the lead up to the 2016 election.
Vimeo suddenly found itself at the center of the on-going Infowars debate after the show was barred from a number of competing sites. Earlier in the week, it was host to a handful of Jones-produced videos, but that number jumped suddenly when north of 50 more were uploaded to the service on Thursday and Friday.
Vimeo pulled the content over the weekend, citing a Terms of Service violation. The move, which was reported by Business Insider, has since been confirmed by TechCrunch.
“We can confirm that Vimeo removed InfoWars’ account on Sunday, August 12 following the uploading of videos on Thursday and Friday that violated our Terms of Service prohibitions on discriminatory and hateful content. Vimeo has notified the account owner and issued a refund,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch.
Infowars is moving quickly from one platform to the next, as more sites remove content over TOS violations. Twitter remains steadfast in its decision not to remove Jones, however, instead holding journalists accountable for debunking his content. Jones has also apparently found some solace in the social ghost town that is Google+.
A handful of tweets and videos that appear to have been cited in the choice to remove Alex Jones from Facebook and YouTube vanished from Twitter on Thursday after being called out in a CNN piece focused on the company’s hypocrisy. Twitter confirmed to TechCrunch that it did not remove the tweets in question and […]
A handful of tweets and videos that appear to have been cited in the choice to remove Alex Jones from Facebook and YouTube vanished from Twitter on Thursday after being called out in a CNN piece focused on the company’s hypocrisy.
Twitter confirmed to TechCrunch that it did not remove the tweets in question and that someone affiliated with Alex Jones and Infowars or with access to those accounts is behind the removal. The tweets in question spanned the Infowars brand, including accusations that Sandy Hook was staged by crisis actors, slurs against transgender people and a video asserting that Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg is a Nazi.
All of the tweets CNN linked are no longer available, suggesting that Jones might be trying to walk a narrow line on the platform, keeping most of the Infowars content up even as users and reporters surface some of its most objectionable moments. We reached out to Infowars for the reasoning behind taking down the posts and will update this story when we hear more.
On Wednesday in an internal memo that was later tweeted, Twitter’s VP of trust & safety made the claim that if Jones had posted the same content on Twitter that had resulted in action on other platforms, Twitter would have acted, too.
“… At least some of the content Alex Jones published on other platforms (e.g. Facebook and YouTube) that led them to taking enforcement actions against him would also have violated our policies had he posted it on Twitter,” Twitter’s Del Harvey said. “Had he done so, we would have taken action against him as well.”
On Thursday, CNN called Twitter’s bluff. The news site found that the same content that got Jones and Infowars booted from other platforms “were still live on Twitter as of the time this article was published,” according to CNN.
Update: Twitter spox tells me that Twitter has not deleted these tweets/content. Someone with access to the accounts has deleted them. Twitter is still reviewing the content.
In spite of the missing tweets, at the time of writing, the accounts of both Infowars and Alex Jones remained online and tweeting. In fact, just 30 minutes ago, Infowars accused former president Obama of a “deep state” scheme to purge Infowars from tech platforms.
It’s not just inciting violence, threats and hate speech that will get Facebook to remove posts by you or your least favorite troll. Endangering someone financially, not just physically, or tricking them to earn a profit are now also strictly prohibited. Facebook today spelled out its policy with more clarity in hopes of establishing a […]
It’s not just inciting violence, threats and hate speech that will get Facebook to remove posts by you or your least favorite troll. Endangering someone financially, not just physically, or tricking them to earn a profit are now also strictly prohibited.
Facebook today spelled out its policy with more clarity in hopes of establishing a transparent set of rules it can point to when it enforces its policy in the future. That comes after cloudy rules led to waffling decisions and backlash as it dealt with and finally removed four Pages associated with Infowars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones.
The company started by repeatedly stressing that it is not a government — likely to indicate it does not have to abide by the same First Amendment rules.
“We do not, for example, allow content that could physically or financially endanger people, that intimidates people through hateful language, or that aims to profit by tricking people using Facebook,” its VP of policy Richard Allen published today.
Web searches show this is the first time Facebook has used that language regarding financial attacks. We’ve reached out for comment about exactly how new Facebook considers this policy.
This is important because it means Facebook’s policy encompasses threats of ruining someone’s credit, calling for people to burglarize their homes or blocking them from employment. While not physical threats, these can do real-world damage to victims.
Similarly, the position against trickery for profit gives Facebook a wide berth to fight against spammers, scammers and shady businesses making false claims about products. The question will be how Facebook enforces this rule. Some would say most advertisements are designed to trick people in order for a business to earn a profit. Facebook is more likely to shut down obvious grifts where businesses make impossible assertions about how their products can help people, rather than just exaggerations about their quality or value.
The added clarity offered today highlights the breadth and particularity with which other platforms, notably the wishy-washy Twitter, should lay out their rules about content moderation. While there have long been fears that transparency will allow bad actors to game the system by toeing the line without going over it, the importance of social platforms to democracy necessitates that they operate with guidelines out in the open to deflect calls of biased enforcement.
Apple has commented on its decision to continue to allow conspiracy theorist profiteer InfoWars to livestream video podcasts via an app in its App Store, despite removing links to all but one of Alex Jones’ podcast content from its iTunes and podcast apps earlier this week. At the time Apple said the podcasts had violated its […]
Apple has commented on its decision to continue to allow conspiracy theorist profiteer InfoWars to livestream video podcasts via an app in its App Store, despite removing links to all but one of Alex Jones’ podcast content from its iTunes and podcast apps earlier this week.
At the time Apple said the podcasts had violated its community standards, emphasizing that it “does not tolerate hate speech”, and saying: “We believe in representing a wide range of views, so long as people are respectful to those with differing opinions.”
Yet the InfoWars app allows iOS users to livestream the same content Apple just pulled from iTunes.
In a statement given to BuzzFeed News Apple explains its decision not to pull InfoWars app’ — saying:
We strongly support all points of view being represented on the App Store, as long as the apps are respectful to users with differing opinions, and follow our clear guidelines, ensuring the App Store is a safe marketplace for all. We continue to monitor apps for violations of our guidelines and if we find content that violates our guidelines and is harmful to users we will remove those apps from the store as we have done previously.
Multiple tech platforms have moved to close to door or limit Jones’ reach on their platforms in recent weeks, including Google, which shuttered his YouTube channel, and Facebook, which removed a series of videos and banned Jones’ personal account for 30 days as well as issuing the InfoWars page with a warning strike. Spotify, Pinterest, LinkedIn, MailChimp and others have also taken action.
Although Twitter has not banned or otherwise censured Jones — despite InfoWars’ continued presence on its platform threatening CEO Jack Dorsey’s claimed push to want to improve conversational health on his platform. Snapchat is also merely monitoring Jones’ continued presence on its platform.
In an unsurprising twist, the additional exposure Jones/InfoWars has gained as a result of news coverage of the various platform bans appears to have given his apps some passing uplift…
Well, the bans were great for Infowars app downloads. It’s the No. 4 news app in Apple’s App Store today, ranking above all mainstream news organizations.
So Apple’s decision to remove links to Jones’ podcasts yet allow the InfoWars app looks contradictory.
The company is certainly treading a fine line here. But there’s a technical distinction between a link to a podcast in a directory, where podcast makers can freely list their stuff (with the content hosted elsewhere), vs an app in Apple’s App Store which has gone through Apple’s review process and the content is being hosted by Apple.
What percentage of people who discussed Infowars today understood the distinction between a podcast directory, actual file hosting, and whether software would allow manually adding a feed or listening to content?
When it removed Jones’ podcasts Apple was, in effect, just removing a pointer to the content, not the content itself. The podcasts also represented discrete content — meaning each episode which was being pointed to could be judged against Apple’s community standards. (And one podcast link was not removed, for example, though five were.)
Whereas Jones (mostly) uses the InfoWars app to livestream podcast shows. Meaning the content in the InfoWars app is more ephemeral — making it more difficult for Apple to cross-check against its community standards. The streamer has to be caught in the act, as it were.
Google has also not pulled the InfoWars app from its Play Store despite shuttering Jones’ YouTube channel, and a spokesperson told BuzzFeed: “We carefully review content on our platforms and products for violations of our terms and conditions, or our content policies. If an app or user violates these, we take action.”
That said, both the iOS and Android versions of the app also include ‘articles’ that can be saved by users, so some of the content appears to be less ephemeral.
The iOS listing further claims the app lets users “stay up to date with articles as they’re published from Infowars.com” — which at least suggests some of the content is identical to what’s being spouted on Jones’ own website (where he’s only subject to his own T&Cs).
But in order to avoid failing foul of Apple and Google’s app store guidelines, Jones is likely carefully choosing which articles are funneled into the apps — to avoid breaching app store T&Cs against abuse and hateful conduct, and (most likely also) to hook more eyeballs with more soft-ball conspiracy nonsense before, once people are pulled into his orbit, blasting them with his full bore BS shotgun on his own platform.
Sample articles depicted in screenshots in the App Store listing for the app include one claiming that George Soros is “literally behind Starbucks’ sensitivity training” and another, from the ‘science’ section, pushing some junk claims about vision correction — so all garbage but not at the same level of anti-truth toxicity that Jones has become notorious for for what he says on his shows; while the Play Store listing flags a different selection of sample articles with a slightly more international flavor — including several on European far right politics, in addition to U.S. focused political stories about Trump and some outrage about domestic ‘political correctness gone mad’. So the static sample content at least isn’t enough to violate any T&Cs.
Still, the livestream component of the apps presents an ongoing problem for Apple and Google — given both have stated that his content elsewhere violates their standards. And it’s not clear how sustainable it will be for them to continue to allow Jones a platform to livestream hate from inside the walls of their commercial app stores.
Beyond that, narrowly judging Jones — a purveyor of weaponized anti-truth (most egregiously his claim that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a hoax) — by the content he uploads directly to their servers also ignores the wider context (and toxic baggage) around him.
And while no tech companies want their brands to be perceived as toxic to conservative points of view, InfoWars does not represent conservative politics. Jones peddles far right conspiracy theories, whips up hate and spreads junk science in order to generate fear and make money selling supplements. It’s cynical manipulation not conservatism.
Both should revisit their decision. Hateful anti-truth merely damages the marketplace of ideas they claim to want to champion, and chills free speech through violent bullying of minorities and the people it makes into targets and thus victimizes.
Earlier this week 9to5Mac reported that CNN’s Dylan Byers had said the decision to remove links to InfoWars’ podcasts had been made at the top of Apple — after a meeting between CEO Tim Cook and SVP Eddy Cue. Byers’ reported it was also the execs’ decision not to remove the InfoWars app.
We’ve reached out to Apple to ask whether it will be monitoring InfoWars’ livestreams directly for any violations of its community standards and will update this story with any response.
Snapchat has largely escaped scrutiny about fake news and election interference since its content quickly disappears and its publisher hub Discover is a closed platform. But now the Infowars mess that’s plagued Facebook and YouTube has landed at Snap’s feet, as conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has begun tweeting to promote an augmented reality Snapchat Lens […]
Snapchat has largely escaped scrutiny about fake news and election interference since its content quickly disappears and its publisher hub Discover is a closed platform. But now the Infowars mess that’s plagued Facebook and YouTube has landed at Snap’s feet, as conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has begun tweeting to promote an augmented reality Snapchat Lens built by someone in his community that puts a piece of masking tape with the word “censorship” written over it across the mouth of the user with a “Free Infowars” logo in the screen’s corner. He’s also encouraging his followers to follow Infowars’ official Snapchat page.
The situation highlights the whack-a-mole game of trying to police the fragmented social media space. There always seems to be another platform for those kicked off others for inciting violence, harassing people, or otherwise breaking the rules. A cross-industry committee that helps coordinate enforcement might be necessary to ensure that as someone is booted from one platform, their presences elsewhere are swiftly reviewed and monitored for similar offenses.
“If they can shut me down, they can shut you down,” Jones says at the start of his 42-second video. He cites Facebook, Twitter and Google among those that are getting mobilised by “the Democrats” in aid of defeating opposing candidates in future elections.
(In actual fact, Twitter and related sites like Periscope have, to the consternation of many, not removed Jones’ or Infowars’ accounts from its platform, and for that matter neither has LinkedIn, Google+, or Instagram. Others like Pinterest and Facebook itself have now gotten behind a wider move to start to take action against accounts like these to reduce the amount of sensationalised information being spread around in the name of “free speech.” You can see the full list of Infowars’ and Alex Jones’ active and now inactive social accounts here.)
Jones himself doesn’t seem to have a Snapchat account, but Infowars’ website cites the ‘Infowarslive’ handle as its official Snapchat profile, and it’s what Jones is now pointing fans towards. However, from what we understand from sources, the account has been inactive since early this year. Snap, according to these sources, is currently monitoring it to see what it does and whether that content violates community guidelines, which prohibit hate speech and harassment.
In the mean time, say the sources, Snap is also looking into the Lens that Jones is promoting to determine whether it violates Snap’s community guidelines. These guidelines include prohibiting content that may incite or glorify violence or the use of weapons; may be considered offensive by a particular group of individuals, or that could foster negative stereotypes, such as slurs or other derogatory language; promotes dangerous, harmful, or illegal activity, or that encourages Snapping while driving; contains hashtags or usernames; or threatens to harm a person, group of people, or property.
The interesting thing with a Lens, however, is that while the Lens itself may be innocuous, how it gets appropriated might be less so, and that’s not something that might get caught as quickly by Snap. Users can unlock the Lens for 24 hours with a link or screenshot of its QR Snapcode. From there they can do whatever they want with it, including reactivating it each day for further use. Lenses are one of the least ephemeral parts of Snapchat, making them a potent vector for persistently spreading a controversial viewpoint, and indeed viewpoints that might well violate those community standards, even if the Lens itself does not.
The insight that’s emerging from the whole Infowars debacle is that problems exist not only with how public figures use social platforms, but with how their audiences interpret or mutate their messages as they get shared, again and again.
Snap itself — as its earnings showed us yesterday — is still a smaller platform compared to some social networks. That’s another reason it may have avoided becoming a tool for information operations by malicious actors like the Russian agents that attacked the 2016 presidential election via Facebook.
But Snapchat is in a vulnerable place right now. Yesterday’s Q2 earnings report revealed that its daily active user count actually shrank from 191 million to 188 million. If took a hard stance against fake or controversial accounts, either blocking on driving away users, that could further weigh on its growth. Snap is meanwhile starting to see momentum in its ad business, beating expectations with $262.3 million in revenue last quarter. That’s a trend it doesn’t want to mess with.
Now that Jones can’t spread his false news on Facebook and YouTube, he may look increasingly to platforms like Snapchat or his mobile app the Apple hasn’t removed. And if these platforms allow him to stay, that may light a beacon attracting more questionable content creators.
Over the past two-and-a-half weeks, tech platforms have taken a (if sometimes meek) stance against the far-right and conspiracy theorist content of Alex Jones by removing, banning or penalizing Jones and his podcast Infowars for breaking their community and hate-speech policies. These removals signify an important moment in the history of the internet’s tug-of-war with free […]
Over the past two-and-a-half weeks, tech platforms have taken a (if sometimes meek) stance against the far-right and conspiracy theorist content of Alex Jones by removing, banning or penalizing Jones and his podcast Infowars for breaking their community and hate-speech policies.
These removals signify an important moment in the history of the internet’s tug-of-war with free speech. Can a platform keep all its users safe without enforcing communities’ standards? Can a platform keep all its users “free” if it does?
The conversation has really accelerated in the past few weeks, trickling down from big players like Apple to smaller platforms like Pinterest, so we’ve compiled a list to help keep track of the developments.
The video platform started the conversation in late February and early March of this year when it removed a video from the channel (in which Jones referred to a victim of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting as a “crisis actor”) and subsequently demonetized Jones’ channel by removing ads. These two original moves came on the heels of outcry surrounding Logan Paul’s videos of the suicide forest and YouTube’s lax content moderating.
While those strikes against Jones didn’t appear to entice any other platforms into the fray, YouTube’s most recent action against him at the end of July has. On July 25th, the platform removed four of Jones’ videos for infringement on its hate-speech and child-endangerment policies. The videos contained Islamophobic and transphobic sentiments, as well as the depiction of a child being shoved to the ground by an adult to demonstrate “how to prevent liberalism.”
While the social network had previously chosen not to remove from Jones’ verified page inflammatory content aimed at Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the company did choose to take action following YouTube’s removal of Jones’ videos. On July 27th, the social network removed four videos for violating its community polices against encouraging physical harm or attacks based on someone’s religious affiliation or gender identity. The action resulted in a 30-day ban from posting videos on his personal Facebook and a warning for the Infowars page that Jones moderates.
Just over a week later, on August 1st, the video streaming service removed several of Jones’ Infowars podcast episodes from its platform, stating that the episodes violated the company’s hate-content policy (which it revamped this May.) Similar to Facebook’s policy, Spotify’s states “content whose principal purpose is to incite hatred or violence against people because of their race, religion, disability, gender identity, or sexual orientation” is considered in violation, but not content that is offensive without intent to incite harm.
Taking Spotify’s cue, the podcast app quickly followed with its own stance on August 2nd, and became one of the first platforms to fully remove the Infowars podcast (as well as Jones’ five other podcasts) from its platform instead of targeting certain episodes. In a tweet confirming the action, Stitcher said:
We have reviewed Alex Jones’ podcasts and found he has, on multiple occasions, harassed or allowed harassment of private individuals and organizations, 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.
After a brief weekend lull, Apple started the week with a bang by removing all but one of Jones’ six podcasts from iTunes for violating its policies concerning hate speech, telling TechCrunch in a statement:
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. 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
Following the initial ban and strike served against Jones on July 27th, Facebook chimed back in on August 6th, as well, to announce the removal of four related Facebook pages: the Alex Jones Channel Page; the Alex Jones Page; the Infowars Page; and the InfoWars Nightly News Page. In a statement on its site explaining the new actions, Facebook said:
Since [the original ban], 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.
And then it all began to truly unravel.
Also on August 6th, Pinterest took down the Infowars page on its platform, saying in a statement:
Consistent with our existing policies, we take action against accounts that repeatedly save content that could lead to harm. People come to Pinterest to discover ideas for their lives, and we continue to enforce our principles to maintain a safe, useful and inspiring experience for our users.
Still on the 6th, the porn streaming service YouPorn announced the removal of Jones from its platform, with vice president Charlie Hughes stating:
Following news that YouTube, Spotify and Facebook have banned Alex Jones from their platforms, team YouPorn is joining in solidarity and announces we are banning his content as well. As one of the largest user-generated content platforms in the world, we have already removed his videos that have violated our terms of service. As an inclusive platform, hate has no place on YouPorn.
On August 7th, the professional networking site announced the removal of Jones from its platform, similarly stating:
We have removed the InfoWars company page for violating our terms of service. We value the professional community on LinkedIn and strive to create a platform where the exchange of ideas by professionals can happen without harmful misinformation, bullying, harassment or hate.
We encourage our members to report any inappropriate content or behavior. We investigate and if it is in violation take action, which could include removing the content or suspending the account
And lastly (but likely not for long), the mail messaging platform MailChimp announced on the 7th its removal of Jones from its platform, stating:
We don’t allow people to use our platform to disseminate hateful content… We take our responsibility to our customers and employees seriously. The decision to terminate this account was thoughtfully considered and is in line with our company’s values.
So who’s left? Three notables standing apart from the pack are Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter, the latter of which has made statements recently defending its choice to keep Jones on the platform based on his tweets alone and not their context. As this situation continues to boil, time will tell where these platforms will eventually land.
[Heavy sigh] Twitter is doing that thing again. That thing where it stands by an incoherent policy choice that is only consistent with its long historical record of inconsistency. Late Tuesday, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey took to the platform to defend his company’s choice to keep manic conspiracy theorist and hatemonger Alex Jones and his Infowars […]
Twitter is doing that thing again. That thing where it stands by an incoherent policy choice that is only consistent with its long historical record of inconsistency.
Last week, that choice wouldn’t have turned heads, but after a kind of sudden and inexplicable sea change from all of the other major social platforms over the weekend, Twitter stands alone. To be fair, those social platforms didn’t really assert their own decisions to oust Jones — Apple led the pack, kicking him out of its Podcasts app, and the rest — Facebook, Spotify and YouTube, most notably — meekly followed suit.
Prior to its new statements, Twitter justified its decision to not ban Jones first by telling journalists like us that Jones didn’t actually violate Twitter’s terms of service because most of his abuse and hateful conduct, two violations that might get him banished, live one click away, outside the platform.
The same could be said for most of the hateful drivel that came from the infamous account of the now-banned Milo Yiannopoulos. Yiannopoulos was eventually booted from Twitter for violating the platform’s periodically enforced prohibition against “the targeted abuse or harassment of others.” Jones is known for commanding a similarly hateful online loser army, though in his case they mostly spend their time harassing the parents of Sandy Hook victims rather than black actresses. Twitter’s point is that this kind of harassment needs to actually take place on its platform to get a user kicked off, which in a world in which Twitter policy was uniformly enforced (i.e. a world in which Twitter dedicated sufficient resources to the problem) that would at least be a consistent policy.
Instead of articulating that policy in a clear, decisive way, Twitter said some unnecessarily defensive things that kind of miss the point via an @jack tweetstorm and a tepid blog post touting the company’s vague new commitment to “healthy public conversation.”
If you didn’t read either, you’re not missing anything. Here’s an excerpt from the blog post:
“Our policies and enforcement options evolve continuously to address emerging behaviors online and we sometimes come across instances where someone is reported for an incident that took place prior to that behavior being prohibited. In those instances, we will generally require the individual to delete the Tweet that violates the new rules but we won’t generally take other enforcement action against them (e.g. suspension). This is reflective of the fact that the Twitter Rules are a living document. We continue to expand and update both them and our enforcement options to respond to the changing contours of online conversation. This is how we make Twitter better for everyone.”
Great, crystal clear. Right? If it isn’t here’s a taste of Dorsey’s new tweetstorm:
We didn’t suspend Alex Jones or Infowars yesterday. We know that’s hard for many but the reason is simple: he hasn’t violated our rules. We’ll enforce if he does. And we’ll continue to promote a healthy conversational environment by ensuring tweets aren’t artificially amplified.
Truth is we’ve been terrible at explaining our decisions in the past. We’re fixing that. We’re going to hold Jones to the same standard we hold to every account, not taking one-off actions to make us feel good in the short term, and adding fuel to new conspiracy theories.
Alex Jones and Infowars didn’t break any of Twitter’s rules. Twitter is very bad at explaining its choices and trying to get better, maybe. Twitter won’t follow other platforms for policy enforcement decisions like this because it thinks that sets a bad precedent. Twitter doesn’t want to become a platform “constructed by [its creators’] personal views” (this delusion of neutrality bit is where he really started losing us).
Dorsey finishes with a fairly infuriating assertion that journalists should shoulder all of the work of addressing hatespeech and generally horrific content that leads to real-life harassment, it’s not really Twitter’s problem. Believe us, we’re working on it!!
“Accounts like Jones’ can often sensationalize issues and spread unsubstantiated rumors, so it’s critical journalists document, validate, and refute such information directly so people can form their own opinions. This is what serves the public conversation best.”
To the bit about journalists, all we can say is: Twitter, just own your shit.
Even for those of us concerned about the precedents set by some of tech’s occasional lopsided gestures toward limiting the myriad horrors on the extremely totally neutral platforms that definitely in no way make tech companies publishers, Dorsey’s comments suck. Sure, the whole thing about staying consistent sounds okay at first, but Twitter is the platform most infamous for its totally uneven enforcement around harassment and hatespeech and the one that leaves its users most vulnerable. If the company is truly making an effort to be less terrible at explaining its decisions — and we’re skeptical about that too — this is pretty inauspicious start.
Added to this, former Twitter comms Emily Horne responses to Dorsey with some notable points, including a claim that Twitter has begun taking into account user behaviour offline. That makes the lack of action against Jones all the more baffling.
Another tech platform has closed the door on InfoWars’ Alex Jones . Mail messaging platform MailChimp first confirmed the move in a statement to US media watchdog Media Matters which said the accounts had been closed for “hateful conduct”. A MailChimp spokeswoman also confirmed it to TechCrunch via email. In a statement MailChimp said it had terminated […]
Another tech platform has closed the door on InfoWars’ Alex Jones . Mail messaging platform MailChimp first confirmed the move in a statement to US media watchdog Media Matters which said the accounts had been closed for “hateful conduct”. A MailChimp spokeswoman also confirmed it to TechCrunch via email.
In a statement MailChimp said it had terminated InfoWars’ and Jones’ accounts for ToS violations — adding that while it doesn’t usually comment on individual account closures it was making an exception in this case.
“We don’t allow people to use our platform to disseminate hateful content,” it wrote, adding: “We take our responsibility to our customers and employees seriously. The decision to terminate this account was thoughtfully considered and is in line with our company’s values.”
There has been something of a domino effect among tech companies in recent weeks over what to do about Jones/InfoWars, with Facebook, Apple and Google pulling content or shuttering Jones’ channels over ToS violations. Spotify, YouPorn and even Pinterest have also pulled his content for the same reasons. Although Twitter has not — saying Jones has not violated its rules.
Jones, a notorious conspiracy theorist, has peddled anti-truths on his own website for nearly two decades, but has raised his profile and gained greater exposure by using the reach of mainstream tech platforms and tools — enabling him to rabble rouse beyond a niche audience.
As well as spreading toxic disinformation on mainstream social networks, including targeting the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting by falsely claiming the massacre was an elaborate hoax, Media Matters notes that Jones has regularly encouraged violence — expounding an impending second U.S. civil war narrative in which he discusses killing minorities.
Jones is spinning the recent tech platform bans as a ‘censorship war’ on him, even as hosting companies continue to provide a platform on the Internet for his website — where he continues to peddle his BS for anyone who wants to listen.
The number of tech platforms taking action against Alex Jones, the far right InfoWars conspiracy theorist and hate speech preacher, has been rising in recent weeks — with bans or partial bans including from Google, Apple and Facebook. However, as we noted earlier, Twitter is not among them. Although it has banned known hate peddlers […]
The number of tech platforms taking action against Alex Jones, the far right InfoWars conspiracy theorist and hate speech preacher, has been rising in recent weeks — with bans or partial bans including from Google, Apple and Facebook.
Jones continues to be allowed a presence on Twitter’s platform — and is using his verified Twitter account to scream about being censored all over the mainstream place, hyperventilating at one point in the past 16 hours that ‘censoring Alex Jones is censoring everyone’ — because, and I quote, “we’re all Alex Jones now”.
(Fact check: No, we’re not… And, Alex, if you’re reading this, we suggest you take heart from the ideas in this Onion article and find a spot in your local park.)
We asked Twitter why it has not banned Jones outright, given that its own rules service proscribe hate speech and hateful conduct…
Abuse: You may not engage in the targeted harassment of someone, or incite other people to do so. We consider abusive behavior an attempt to harass, intimidate, or silence someone else’s voice.
Hateful conduct: You may not promote violence against, threaten, or harass other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease. Read more about our hateful conduct policy.
Add to that, CEO Jack Dorsey has made it his high profile mission of late to (try to) improve conversational health on the platform. So it seems fair to wonder how Twitter continuing to enable a peddler of toxic lies and hate is going to achieve that?
While Twitter would not provide a statement about Jones’ continued presence on its platform, a spokesman told us that InfoWars and Jones’ personal account are not in violation of Twitter (or Periscope’s) ToS . At least not yet. Though he pointed out it could of course take action in the future — i.e. if it’s made aware of particular tweets that violate its rules.
Twitter’s position therefore appears to be that the content posted by InfoWars to other social media platforms is different to the content Jones posts to Twitter itself — ergo, its (hedgy & fudgy) argument essentially boils down to saying Jones is walking a fine enough line on Twitter itself to avoid a ban, because he hasn’t literally tweeted content that violates the letter of Twitter’s ToS.
(Though he has tweeted stuff like “the censorship of Infowars just vindicates everything we’ve been saying” — and given the hate-filled, violently untruthful things he has been saying all over the Internet, he’s essentially re-packaged all those lies into that single tweet, so… )
To spell out Twitter’s fudge: The fact of Jones being a known conspiracy theorist and widely visible hate preacher is not being factored into its ToS enforcement decisions.
The company says it’s judging the man by his output on Twitter — which means it’s failing to take into account the wider context around Jones’ tweets, i.e. all the lies and hate he peddles elsewhere (and indeed all the insinuating nods and dog whistles he makes to his followers on Twitter) — and by doing so it is in fact enabling the continued spread of hate via the wink-wink-nod-nod back door.
Twitter’s spokesman did not want to engage in a lengthy back and forth conversation, healthy or otherwise, about Jones/InfoWars so it was not possible to get a response from the company on that point.
However it does argue, i.e. in defense of its fudged position, that keeping purveyors of false news on its platform allows for an open, real-time debate which in turn allows for their lies to be challenged and debunked by people who are in their right minds — so, basically, this is the ‘fight bad speech with more speech argument’ that’s so beloved of people already enjoying powerful privilege.
The problem with that argument (actually, there are many) is it does not factor in the human cost; the people suffering directly because toxic lies impact their lives. Nor the cost to truth itself; To belief in the veracity and authenticity of credible sources of information which are under sustained and vicious attack by anti-truthers like Jones; The corrosive impact on professional journalism from lies being packaged and peddled under the lying banner of self-styled ‘truth journalism’ that Jones misappropriates. Nor the cost to society from hate speech whose very purpose is to rip up the social fabric and take down civic values — and, in the case of Jones’ particular bilious flavor, to further bang the drum of abuse via the medium of toxic disinformation — to further amplify and spread his pollution, via the power of untruth — to whip up masses of non-critically thinking conspiracy-prone followers. I could go on. (I have here.)
The amplification effect of social media platforms — combined with cynical tricks used by hate peddlers to game algorithms, such as bots retweeting and liking content to make it seem more popular than it is — makes this stuff a major, major problem.
‘Bad speech’ on such powerful platforms can become not just something to roll your eyes at and laughingly dismiss, but a toxic force that bullies, beats down and drowns out other types of speech — perhaps most especially truthful speech, because falsehood flies (and online it’s got rocket fuel) — and so can have a very deleterious impact on conversational health.
Really, it needs to be handled in a very different way. Which means Twitter’s position on Jones, and hateful anti-truthers in general, looks both flawed and weak.
It’s also now looking increasingly isolated, as other tech platforms are taking action.
Twitter’s spokesman also implied the company is working on tuning its systems to actively surface high quality counter-narratives and rebuttals to toxic BS — such as in replies to known purveyors of fake news like InfoWars.
But while such work is to be applauded, working on a fix also means you don’t actually have a fix yet. Meanwhile the lies you’re not stopping are spreading on your platform — at horrible and high cost to people and society.
It’s hard to see this as a defensible position.
And while Twitter keeps sitting on its fence, Jones’ hate speech and toxic lies, broadcast to millions as a weapon of violent disinformation, have got his video show booted from YouTube (which, after first issuing a strike yesterday then terminated his page for “violating YouTube’s Community Guidelines”).
The platform had removed ads from his channel back in March — but had not then (as Jones falsely claimed at the time) banned it. That decision took another almost half year for YouTube to arrive at.
Also yesterday, almost all of Jones’ podcasts were pulled by Apple, with the company saying it does not tolerate hate speech. “We believe in representing a wide range of views, so long as people are respectful to those with differing opinions,” it added.
Earlier this month, music streaming service Spotify also removed some of Jones’ podcasts for violating its hate-speech policy.
Even Facebook removed a bunch of Jones’ videos late last month, for violating its community standards — albeit after some dithering, and what looked like a lot of internal confusion.
The social media behemoth also imposed a 30-day ban on Jones’ personal account for posting the videos, and served him a warning notice for the InfoWars Facebook Page he controls.
Facebook later clarified it had banned Jones’ personal profile because he had previously received a warning — whereas the InfoWars Page had not, hence the latter only getting a strike.
There have even been bans from some unlikely quarters: YouPorn just announced action against Jones for a ToS violation — nixing his ability to try to pass off anti-truth hate preaching as a porn alternative on its platform.
So, uh, other responses than Twitter’s (of doing nothing) are widely possible.
On Twitter, Jones also benefits from being able to distinguish his account from any would-be imitators or satirists, because he has a verified account — denoted on the platform by a blue check mark badge.
We asked Twitter why it hasn’t removed Jones’ blue badge — given that the company has, until relatively recently, been rethinking its verification program. And last year it actively removed blue badges from a number of white supremacists because it was worried it looked like it had been endorsing them. Yet Jones — who spins the gigantic lie of ‘white genocide’ — continues to keep his.
Twitter’s spokesman pointed us to this tweet last month from product lead, Kayvon Beykpour, who wrote that updating the program “isn’t a top priority for us right now”.
We've heard some questions recently about the status of Verification on Twitter, so wanted to address directly. Updating our verification program isn’t a top priority for us right now (election integrity is). Here’s some history & context, and how we plan to put it on our roadmap
Beykpour went on to explain that while Twitter had “paused” public verification last November (because “we wanted to address the issue that verifying the authenticity of an account was being conflated with endorsement”), it subsequently paused its own ‘pause for thought’ on having verified some very toxic individuals, with Beykpour writing in an email to staff in July:
Though the current state of Verification is definitely not ideal (opaque criteria and process, inconsistency in our procedures, external frustration from customers), I don’t believe we have the bandwidth to address this holistically (policy, process, product, and a plan around how & when these fit together) without coming at the cost of our other priorities and distracting the team.
At the same time Beykpour admits in the thread that Twitter has been ‘unpausing’ its pause on verification in some circumstances (“we still verify accounts ad hoc when we think it serves the public conversation & is in line with our policy”); but not, evidently, going so far as to unpause its pause on removing badges from hateful people who gain unjustified authenticity and authority from the perceived endorsement of Twitter verification — such as in ‘ad hoc’ situations where doing so might be terribly, terribly appropriate. Like, uh, this one.
Beykpour wrote that verification would be addressed by Twitter post-election. So it’s presumably sticking to its lack of having a policy at all right now, for now. (“I know this isn’t the most satisfying news, but I wanted to be transparent about our priorities,” he concluded.)
Twitter’s spokesman told us it doesn’t have anything further to share on verification at this point.
Jones’ toxic activity on social media has included spreading the horrendous lie that children who died in the Sandy Hook U.S. school shooting were ‘crisis actors’.
So, for now, a man who lies about the violent death of little children continues to be privileged with a badge on his not-at-all-banned Twitter account.
Two of the parents of a child who died at the school wrote an open letter to Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, last month, describing how toxic lies about the school shooting spread via social media had metastasized into violent hate and threats directed at them.
“Our families are in danger as a direct result of the hundreds of thousands of people who see and believe the lies and hate speech, which you have decided should be protected,” wrote Lenny Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa, the parents of Noah, who died on 14 December, 2012, at the age of six.
“What makes the entire situation all the more horrific is that we have had to wage an almost inconceivable battle with Facebook to provide us with the most basic of protections to remove the most offensive and incendiary content.”