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Over the course of 24 hours, most social media giants kicked one of the most infamous conspiracy theory peddlers off their platforms.
Alex Jones, the creator of the Infowars website and multiple talk shows, has had a hand in spreading hoaxes online, including unproven theories that the Sandy Hook massacre was fabricated, and that Democrats ran a child abuse-ring out of a pizzeria.
But that’s not why he was banned from these platforms on Aug. 5 and 6.
Apple was the first to act. It pulled five of Infowars' six podcasts from the iTunes and Podcasts apps. Those included War Room and the popular Alex Jones Show podcast, which is hosted daily.
Facebook and Spotify followed suit. Facebook unpublished four pages: the Alex Jones Channel Page, the Alex Jones Page, the Infowars Page and the Infowars Nightly News Page. They also suspended Alex Jones’ personal account, for his role in posting the content. Spotify removed all episodes of The Alex Jones Show.
What sparked their removal? The idea is similar throughout: Jones violated the social media platforms’ hate speech policies.
Facebook defines hate speech as "a direct attack on people based on what we call protected characteristics — race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, caste, sex, gender, gender identity, and serious disease or disability. We also provide some protections for immigration status. We define attack as violent or dehumanizing speech, statements of inferiority, or calls for exclusion or segregation." Youtube has a similar definition. Apple does not define hate, but writes that content may be removed or rejected if it could be construed as racist, misogynist, or homophobic, or depicts hate themes.
Apple told BuzzFeed News, "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."
Facebook released a detailed press statement on the matter. Facebook said they recently removed four videos from Alex Jones’ pages, as they violated their hate speech and bullying policies. Since then, they have been notified of more content from his pages that glorified violence and used "dehumanizing language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims and immigrants, which violates our hate speech policies." After multiple strikes, Facebook shut down the pages and suspended the administrator.
The four videos were likely the same ones The Verge reported earned Alex Jones a strike on Youtube in July: two videos contained hate speech against Muslims, one contained hate speech against transgender people, and one entitled "How to prevent liberalism" showed an adult pushing a child to the ground.
Facebook said that misinformation was not the culprit in the case of Alex Jones.
"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," the press release said. (PolitiFact is one of those fact-checkers; read more about the partnership.)
YouTube removed Infowars channels as well, including the most popular: The Alex Jones Channel, which had 2.4 million subscribers. In response to our query about Jones’ removal, a YouTube spokesperson said that accounts are terminated for users who "repeatedly violate their policies against hate speech and harassment or our terms prohibiting circumvention of our enforcement measures."
Spotify struck The Alex Jones Show from its podcast library due to "repeated violations of Spotify’s prohibited content policies." Spotify's hate policy bans content that "expressly and principally promotes, advocates, or incites hatred or violence against a group or individual based on characteristics."
The only major social media outlet that has not banned Jones is Twitter.
A spokesman told us Infowars and its associated channels were not in violation of Twitter rules, as content posted on other social media sites is not often posted to Twitter. He said that tweets debunking Jones’ false claims were plentiful and surfaced among his replies.
The short time frame prompted Paul Joseph Watson, Infowars editor-at-large, to dub the bans a coordinated purge.
"The Alex Jones Channel has been permanently DELETED by YouTube. This is a coordinated PURGE. This is political censorship," Watson tweeted. "Apple, Spotify, Facebook and now Google (which owns YouTube) - all within 12 hours of each other. A coordinated purge. This is a total abuse of power."
David Karpf, an associate professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University, said social media platforms have been wrestling with the Infowars issue for a long time. Jones’ mass following and acceptance by Republican politicians (President Donald Trump once appeared on his show) made him a thorny subject, and he often skirted the boundaries of acceptable behavior by not expressly issuing incitements to violence.
"Once one of the sites finally took a step toward banning or removing Alex Jones, it becomes easier for the other sites to follow suit," Karpf said. "It's herd behavior, both because that offers a buffer against political repercussions directed at a single site, and because no major content platform wants to stand out as uniquely supportive of Infowars' awful rhetoric."
Buzzfeed News, Apple Kicked Alex Jones Off Its Platform, Then YouTube And Facebook Rushed To Do The Same, Aug. 6, 2018
Facebook, Enforcing Our Community Standards, Aug. 6, 2018
Twitter, Paul Joseph Watson, Aug. 6, 2018
The Verge, YouTube issues a new strike against Alex Jones’ channel over hate speech and child endangerment, July 25, 2018
Apple, iTunes Connect resources and help, accessed Aug. 7, 2018
Youtube, Policies and Safety, accessed Aug. 7, 2018
Spotify, What content is prohibited on Spotify?, accessed Aug. 7, 2018
Email interview with David Karpf, an associate professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University, Aug. 7, 2018