August 06, 2018
Crackdown on US conspiracy theorist for promoting violence and hate speech
Facebook, Apple, YouTube and Spotify ban Infowars Alex Jones
All but one of the major content platforms have banned the American conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, as the companies raced to act in the wake of Apple’s decision to remove five podcasts by Jones and his Infowars website.
Facebook unpublished four pages run by Jones for “repeated violations of community standards”, the company said on Monday. YouTube terminated Jones’s account over him repeatedly appearing in videos despite being subject to a 90-day ban from the website, and Spotify removed the entirety of one of Jones’s podcasts for “hate content”.
Facebook’s removal of the pages – the Alex Jones Channel Page, the Alex Jones Page, the Infowars Page and the Infowars Nightly News Page – comes after the social network imposed a 30-day ban on Jones personally “for his role in posting violating content to these pages”.
Following that suspension, a Facebook spokesperson said: “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 dehumanising language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims and immigrants, which violates our hate speech policies.”
The spokesperson noted that, despite the focus on Jones’s role in spreading conspiracy theories around events such as the 9/11 attacks and Sandy Hook school shooting, “none of the violations that spurred today’s removals were related to this”.
A few hours after Facebook announced its ban, YouTube also terminated Jones’s account on its platform. The company 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.”
The Guardian understands that the specific rationale for Jones’s ban was his habit of appearing in livestreams hosted on other channels on the site, despite being subject to a 90-day ban.
Facebook’s and YouTube’s enforcement action against Jones came hours after Apple removed Jones from its podcast directory. The timing of Facebook’s announcement was unusual, with the company confirming the ban at 3am local time.
Jones, who is being sued by the parents of children murdered in the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting for claiming the attack was a hoax, is the host of the daily Alex Jones Show podcast, and his platform Infowars produces another five podcasts.
All of those shows were removed from Apple Podcasts save for one, Real News with David Knight, which at present is still on the platform.
Apple does not host podcasts, nor does it have any financial relationship with those it catalogues on its directory. Instead, Apple Podcasts is simply a list of links to podcasts hosted on independent servers around the world. But the service is still the most important single platform in the podcasting industry, driving a substantial amount of traffic to the podcasts it features on its homepage or in its charts.
Publishing platforms have faced strong pressure to take action against Jones and Infowars over the past few months, but Apple was the first major company to sanction the broadcaster in its entirety, narrowly beating Facebook to the punch.
“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,” an Apple spokesperson told BuzzFeed News, which first reported the removal. “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.”
Spotify also took action against Jones on Monday, removing every episode of his podcast The Alex Jones Show from its platform. The music streaming service had previously removed specific episodes of the show, but left the bulk of the archive up, before tightening its enforcement. Spotify has still left three other Infowars podcasts live on the service, however.
“We take reports of hate content seriously and review any podcast episode or song that is flagged by our community,” a Spotify spokesperson told the Guardian. “Due to repeated violations of Spotify’s prohibited content policies, The Alex Jones Show has lost access to the Spotify platform.”
Facebook suspended Jones’s personal profile from the site for 30 days in late July for what the company said was bullying and hate speech. But he continued to regularly appear on Facebook after the suspension, appearing in livestreams hosted by other accounts and even making first-person posts to his personal page by publishing them using the accounts of other administrators in Infowars.
The lone major social network to still allow Jones unfettered access is Twitter, where the broadcaster has a “verified” account. As the count of companies acting against Jones and Infowars grew, some Twitter users began campaigning for that site to follow suit, tweeting to Jack Dorsey, the co-founder and chief executive. Following the bans, Jones immediately turned to Twitter’s live-streaming platform Periscope to hit back at the tech platforms. “Everyone must turn to Infowars as a standard to be saved,” Jones said. “Tell folks, ‘Hey, it’s the most censored thing in the world for a reason. Jones is dialled in, Jones knows what’s going on.’”
Since founding Infowars in 1999, Jones has built a vast audience. Among the theories he has promoted is that the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington were staged by the government.
He has also promoted a theory that the Sandy Hook massacre was faked by left-wing forces to promote gun control. The shooting killed 26 children and adults at the elementary school in Connecticut.
Jones is being sued in Texas by two Sandy Hook parents, who are seeking at least $1m (£770,000), claiming they have been subjected to harassment driven by his shows.
Neither Jones nor a representative for Infowars was available for comment early on Monday.
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