By Conor White
The decision by the web's biggest social platforms Monday to remove content by the conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and bar the Inforwars host from posting may set a new standard for what's appropriate speech on social media, says Sara Fischer, a media reporter for Axios.
Facebook, YouTube, Apple, and Spotify all removed Jones's incendiary podcasts and videos for hate speech and harassment.
In a statement Monday, Facebook said it was removing content from four pages associated with Jones for "glorifying violence" and "using dehumanizing language." Google, which owns YouTube, told the Washington Post on Monday it terminated Jones's video channel for similar reasons.
“All users agree to comply with our Terms of Service and Community Guidelines when they sign up to use YouTube," Google said according to The Post. "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."
Jones has repeatedly spread the false claim that the deadly 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that killed 27 people was a hoax. Parents of some of the slain children are suing Jones. They say they've been harassed by his followers ー at Jones's urging ー and have been forced to move. Jones has said that he was acting as a journalist and that his speech is protected.
"This is really dicey," Fischer said Monday in an interview on Cheddar. "If you're Facebook, you want to create a policy that can scale."
Blocking one person for his false views isn't a sustainable policy, she said. "You need to be able to scale that policy globally to every single viewpoint."
Infowars has also been cited repeatedly for promulgating "fake news," but Facebook said in its statement that misinformation is a different issue that the social network is trying to address separately. Jones's content was removed specifically for speech that violates the social network's community standards.
"The claims he's making have always been dangerous, but they seem particularly paranoid as of late," said Heather Dockray, a culture reporter at Mashable.
Companies wary of accusations of censorship have until now refrained from taking action against Jones, but Dockray said that Jones's increased rhetoric made the decisions to block Infowars an easy call.
"I think with Alex Jones it's the closest thing to a clear-cut case as you're ever going to get," Dockray said. "I mean this is someone who has shared the addresses of Sandy Hook parents a couple of years ago, and this is someone who a lot of critics say has engaged in targeted harassment campaigns."
Despite the actions of Facebook, Apple, and YouTube, one social platform, Twitter, has not removed Jones or InfoWars from its service. According to Bloomberg, a Twitter spokesperson InfoWars and related accounts were not currently in violation of Twitter’s rules.
Still, the decisions by Apple, Spotify and Facebook may clear the way for other platforms to take action, now that a precedent has been established. And Fischer said that Facebook must feel it can apply the new standard universally, or the company would not have acted against one individual.
"This is a very big, massive step for Facebook to be removing some of Alex Jones's pages," Fischer said. "In doing so, they're essentially saying 'we don't think that viewpoint or whatever it is that he's putting out there is accurate, is true and is healthy, is safe."