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Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones removed from social media platforms after calls for misinformation crackdown – August 2018

Austin, TX

In August 2018, Alex Jones — a prominent far-right figure from Texas involved in several defamation cases for perpetuating conspiracy theories — was removed from multiple social media platforms, including Facebook, Youtube, and Spotify. According to the The New York Times, the move came after pressure increased on technology companies to address their role in spreading false information and political division. Twitter, however, decided to keep Jones’s content posted; days later, Twitter acceded to growing criticism and temporarily suspended Jones for violating its content policies. He responded by deleting tweets that appeared to violate those standards, which led to accusations that he was destroying evidence related to the Sandy Hook defamation case. Weeks later, Twitter removed Jones permanently.

Key Players

Alex Jones is a broadcaster based in Austin, TX, who often perpetuates conspiracy theories and misinformation on various platforms, including his radio program, The Alex Jones Show, and his website, InfoWars.com.

InfoWars receives about 10 million monthly unique views, according to Quantcast, an American firm that tracks website audiences. His radio show airs daily on more than 60 stations nationwide.

Jones gained notoriety for promoting conspiracy theories about the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, which he alleged was a “giant hoax” where “no one died”. He would later stir controversy by claiming that a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant was headquarters for a child sex-trafficking ring run by prominent Democrats, and that a survivor of the February 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was a crisis actor.

Although Jones has occasionally been known to describe his conspiracy theories as “performance art,” he has faced legal repercussions for his actions. In April 2018, he was sued for defamation by a man who claimed Jones and InfoWars had falsely identified him as the gunman in the Parkland shooting, according to the New York Times. That same month, three parents of children slain in the Sandy Hook massacre filed defamation suits against Jones for insisting the shooting was a hoax, which led to some parents being harassed. For example, an individual was sentenced to five months in prison after making death threats against Leonard Pozner, one of the Sandy Hook parents who filed a suit against Jones, according to the New York Times.

The suits, which seek millions of dollars in damages, specifically focus on certain comments Jones has made. For example, in an April 2017 segment of his radio show, Jones claimed that a CNN interview with a Sandy Hook parent by journalist Anderson Cooper was falsified. In another segment, Jones questioned the veracity of a parent who recalled holding his dead son’s body after the Sandy Hook shooting. The lawsuits characterize such comments as “a continuation and elaboration of a yearslong campaign to falsely attack the honesty of the Sandy Hook parents, casting them as participants in a ghastly conspiracy and cover-up,” according to the Times.

Further Details

On July 25, 2018, two Sandy Hook parents published an open letter in The Guardian. Their message: that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg should take more substantive steps against the propagation of conspiracy theories surrounding mass shootings, as well as the harassment of and threats to victims’ families that often follow.

“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,” the parents wrote. “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.”’

The next day, YouTube, the video-sharing platform on which, by that point, Jones had amassed more than 2.4 million subscribers, removed four videos from Jones’s InfoWars channel, saying their depictions of shoving “liberal” children into the ground and labeling of young people in drag as “Satanists” violated the company’s graphic content policy, according to USA Today. The company also prohibited him from broadcasting live on the platform for 90 days.

“We have longstanding policies against child endangerment and hate speech,” YouTube said in a statement. “We apply our policies consistently according to the content in the videos, regardless of the speaker or the channel.”

That night, Facebook suspended Jones’s account for 30 days after removing four videos from pages he runs, including his own profile and the InfoWars page. The company said the videos violated its community standards against hate speech and bullying. Facebook also noted that Jones’s pages were nearing the limit on the number of violations they could commit, and ran the risk of being permanently removed, according to NBC News. Facebook’s ban prevented Jones from posting to his profile page, but still allowed others to access both it and the InfoWars Facebook page. According to NBC News, not even a full day had passed before Jones appeared in a livestream on the InfoWars page.

Outcome

Numerous social media, video sharing platforms remove Jones

In the first week of August 2018, several top social media and other technology companies, including Apple, Google, Facebook, and Spotify, wiped Jones’s content from their platforms.

On August 5, Apple took down several of his podcasts, saying that “Apple does not tolerate hate speech, ” according to the New York Times. The next day, Facebook removed four pages controlled by Jones, including one with nearly 1.7 million followers, the Times said. Facebook said Jones’s pages violated its policies by “glorifying violence” and perpetuating dehumanizing language against various minority groups.

That same week, YouTube, which is owned by Google, terminated Jones’s popular video channel, citing the company’s ban on hate speech. Spotify, a music streaming service, soon followed suit. A week later, the video sharing website Vimeo removed content published by Jones and InfoWars, according to Newsweek, saying the clips violated their ban on “discriminatory and hateful content.” Smaller social media companies, including Stitcher, LinkedIn, and Pinterest, also removed InfoWars content.

While many large tech companies, such as Google and Facebook, were at first slow to remove Jones from their platforms–instead choosing short-term bans or removal of specific content–his continued policy violations appeared to erode their patience over time.

Jones reacts to social media removals

In the immediate aftermath of these bans, Jones called for his supporters to resist “sociopaths” whom he blamed for his content’s removal; in fact, he suggested the bans were part of a plot by Democrats, “globalists,” and “corporatists” to silence his ideas, reported the New York Times. By August 7, Jones’s InfoWars app had seen a dramatic spike in its Apple App Store rankings.

Jones characterized his removal from so many media channels as a “war on free speech,” according to the Times, saying he was being “de-platformed” for his beliefs.

Amid calls to remove Jones, Twitter suspends, then bans, him

Calls spread online for Twitter — one of the most notable platforms that had not removed Jones — to do so as well. On August 14, it temporarily suspended his account for a week, citing a video he tweeted, urging his supporters to ready their “battle rifles” against the media. Before long, however, his account was back online.

In the wake of these suspensions, USA Today reported, Jones and InfoWars directed supporters to Tumblr, another social media platform. “They can take our Facebook, Apple, Spotify, Tunein, Youtube, Stitcher, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Flickr, Vimeo, Sprout, Mailchimp & Disqus but they’ll never take our………..Tumblr!” InfoWars tweeted, shortly before being suspended by Twitter.

On August 17, Jones was accused of destroying evidence pertinent to the Sandy Hook defamation case when he deleted social media posts, including tweets, related to his view of the massacre of children and teachers. In an InfoWars broadcast, Jones said he instructed staffers to delete such posts in response to reports that several seemed to violate Twitter’s community standards, according to NBC News.

Weeks later, on September 6, Twitter announced that Jones and his website Infowars had been permanently removed from the site for violating its policies against abuse, with content such as a livestream of Jones verbally harassing a reporter, according to The Washington Post. Twitter also noted that the decision to implement a permanent ban also took into account that it was not Jones’s first violation.

Prominent figures decry Jones’ social media bans

On August 18, President Donald J. Trump weighed into the Infowars debate on Twitter, though he refrained from mentioning Jones by name. “Censorship is a very dangerous thing & absolutely impossible to policy (sic),” Trump wrote. “Too many voices are being destroyed, some good & some bad, and that cannot be allowed to happen.”

Liberal comedian Bill Maher also spoke out in favor of Jones’s right to Free Speech, according to The Hill.

“I don’t like Alex Jones, but Alex Jones gets to speak. Everybody gets to speak,” Maher said on an August 17 episode of his HBO show. “If you’re a liberal, you’re supposed to be for free speech…That’s free speech for the speech you hate. That’s what free speech means. We’re losing the thread of the concepts that are important to this country.”

External References

Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones backs off ‘Pizzagate’ claims, Washington Post

Alex Jones settles Chobani lawsuit and retracts comments about refugees in Twin Falls, Idaho, Los Angeles Times

Sandy Hook Parents Sue Alex Jones for Defamation, New York Times

An open letter to Mark Zuckerberg: our child died at Sandy Hook – why let Facebook lies hurt us even more?, The Guardian

Facebook suspends profile of Infowars founder, says ban is ‘close’, NBC News

Alex Jones and Infowars Content Is Removed From Apple, Facebook and YouTube, New York Times

Vimeo Removes Alex Jones’s InfoWars Content: ‘Discriminatory and Hateful,’ Newsweek

Alex Jones Urges Infowars Fans to Fight Back, and Send Money, New York Times

Bill Maher criticizes social media bans: ‘Alex Jones gets to speak’, The Hill

Twitter Suspends Alex Jones and Infowars for Seven Days, New York Times

Before Twitter suspended Alex Jones, Infowars was already directing users to Tumblr, USA Today

Alex Jones destroyed evidence in Sandy Hook case, claim says, NBC News

On Twitter, Trump accuses ‘social media’ of limiting free speech of conservatives, Washington Post

Twitter has permanently banned Alex Jones and Infowars, The Washington Post

Prepared by Maya Gandhi ’20

Uploaded September 6, 2018