Twitter bans conspiracy theorist Alex Jones

Twitter bans conspiracy theorist Alex Jones
The Social media company says it was responding to ‘abusive behaviour’ by the founder of InfoWars website. Alex Jones is a controversial conspiracy theorist who has a strong right-wing base and has claimed that the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax. Jones was part of...

The Social media company says it was responding to ‘abusive behaviour’ by the founder of InfoWars website.

Background

Alex Jones is a controversial conspiracy theorist who has a strong right-wing base and has claimed that the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax. Jones was part of the media firestorm which labelled President Obama a “Kenyan” and “Socialist Muslim”. Jones also enjoys popularity amongst conservative voters who are protective of the fifth amendment rights.

InfoWars is a website founded by Jones which has peddled rumours, conspiracy theories and unfounded claims targeted on members of the Democratic Party.  Most of his theories are dismissed by mainstream politicians but it is reported that President Trump was an avid listener of Jones’ radio show.

Jones’ content has been banned from Apple’s podcast services, Facebook, YouTube and Periscope. Google was reported to have “suppressed” content from Jones, as per his own accusations. Twitter had partially banned Jones in May 2018 for inciting conspiracy theories but restrained from blocking him completely.

Analysis

Twitter banned right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones on Thursday, a day after its chief executive was challenged by Republicans in Congress over whether the service suppresses some tweets based on political ideology.

The short messaging service said it had “permanently suspended” Mr Jones’ personal account and that of InfoWars, his media outlet, after what it called “abusive behaviour” by Mr Jones the previous day.

The action capped a week in which the power of the main social media platforms came under close scrutiny in Washington, with the Department of Justice saying it would meet with state officials to discuss whether antitrust action was needed.

Twitter had earlier suspended Mr Jones for a week, at a time when other tech platforms were banning him outright. Apple was the first to act against Mr Jones a month ago, and was quickly followed by YouTube and Facebook. The milder punishment from Twitter was seen as a mark of its willingness to tolerate more hostile comments on its site as part of a culture that strongly supports free speech.

Twitter reversed course and banned Mr Jones for good after a showdown in the halls of Congress on Wednesday. This was done shortly before Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, faced questions from a Senate committee on the vulnerability of online platforms to election interference.

The InfoWars figure was caught in an angry showdown with Marco Rubio, a Republican senator from Florida, at one point putting his hand on Mr Rubio’s shoulder, prompting intervention from a security guard. The exchange was broadcast on Twitter’s Periscope video service, among other sites.

Twitter said the permanent ban was prompted by “new reports of Tweets and videos posted yesterday that violate our abusive behaviour policy, in addition to the accounts’ past violations”. Its policies define abusive behaviour as attempts to “harass, intimidate, or silence someone else’s voice”. 

In prepared testimony before he appeared before the Senate committee alongside Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook on Wednesday, Mr Dorsey denied that Twitter had deliberately “shadow banned” Republicans by making their tweets less easy to find, for instance in searches on the service.

In questioning later in the day at a House hearing, the Twitter chief said the company had sometimes mistakenly made it harder to find tweets from some politicians, though he said this had affected Democrats as well as Republicans.

Assessment

Our assessment is that the ban on Jones’ content is justified but the act of banning the person circumvents the entire concept of free speech itself. We feel that InfoWars has been inciting racially and ethnically charged sentiments amongst its followers, which is both illegal and immoral. However, we also feel that Jones’ rights as an American citizen should not be violated.

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