Facebook, YouTube, Apple, and Spotify have booted much of Alex Jones's material from their services after years of criticism for giving the conspiracy theorist and his Infowars website a wider platform.
Jones leads the Infowars website and radio shows, using both to spread conspiracy theories — calling the [Sandy Hook] school shooting (https://www.politifact.com/texas/article/2018/apr/18/true-alex-jones-said-no-one-died-sandy-hook-elemen/) fake and promoting Pizzagate, as well as shilling dietary supplements — though it was hate speech, particularly against immigrants, transgender people, and Muslims that seems to have finally caught out the infamous radio host.
While Apple iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and Facebook have removed Jones's material outright, others continue to allow Jones and Infowars to promote and publish via their sites, including Twitter. While Apple has removed the podcasts, the Infowars app continues to be available in the app store (it's also in the Google Play store).
Apple strengthened the growing movement against Jones's content when it confirmed today that it was removing from iTunes five of the six podcasts that Jones's Infowars produces, telling BuzzFeed News that the removal was sparked by what they deemed hate speech. Streaming-music service Spotify made a similar move, removing all episodes of "The Alex Jones Show" from its podcast directory after a handful of specific episodes disappeared last week.
"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. "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.”
Apple's move was quickly followed by Facebook. After first suspending Jones and his material for 30 days last week, Facebook came down harder and fully removed four pages run by Jones — including the Infowars page and his own profile — for repeatedly breaking its community rules around hate speech, but not for spreading so-called "false news."
"Since [the first suspension], 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 dehumanizing language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims and immigrants, which violates our hate speech policies," Facebook said in a statement.
"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," Facebook added.
Indeed, Facebook told The Guardian that Jones's suspension from the site had nothing to do with him sharing conspiracy theories around the September 11 attacks and the school shooting at Sandy Hook. Jones has said that the shooting, in which 20 children and 6 adults died, was fake, leading to grieving parents filing a defamation suit against the radio host after his followers forced one couple to move multiple times to avoid harassment. Focusing on hate speech rather than false news avoids criticisms that Facebook and the rest are acting as the arbiters of truth — the bans and removal aren't about what's true or not, but what's considered hate speech or seen to encourage violence on their respective platforms.
YouTube also joined the dog pile today. Last month, YouTube removed four videos posted on Jones's channel, which has 2.4 million followers, suspending him from live streaming for three months but allowing his existing videos to remain on the site. Today, it joined the other social sites in fully terminating his account, with the Google-owned company suggesting it was for violating community guidelines around hate speech, harassment, and circumventing enforcement measures.
While Jones's defenders say freedom of speech is at issue, others disagree. Sleeping Giants, an activist group that's previously targeted Breitbart, noted on Twitter: "Tomorrow, Alex Jones will scream about his ban from iTunes being political. There are plenty of conservative & liberal podcasts that don’t harass the parents of children killed at Sandy Hook or Las Vegas shooting victims.This was not about right or left, but right and wrong."
That aside, Jones's own attorney told a court during a post-divorce custody battle that the infamous radio host is a "performance artist," suggesting the conspiracy theories are part of an act.
Plus, the content isn't being banned entirely: It's being "no platformed." Jones's conspiracy content is, of course, still available direct from the Infowars site. Indeed, that site posted a story complaining about "big tech" infringing on its right to free speech, saying that Facebook didn't specifically state which posts violated its terms, and suggesting that the social network had bowed to a campaign from CNN, BuzzFeed, and Democrats.
While the bans and removal from YouTube, Facebook, Apple and Spotify come later than many critics would have hoped, and almost entirely ignore the issue of so-called false news, at least they've finally taken action. Jones and his content continue to appear on Twitter. That site has been the focus of much criticism over its failure to successfully address disinformation, bots, false news, abuse and harassment, and remains the odd site out among the major platforms when it comes to booting Jones. Facebook and YouTube announced their decisions after Apple took action, but whether the increased pressure means Twitter will follow the moves of its rivals and peers remains to be seen.
If Infowars is correct that these moves are the result of media and Democrats lobbying tech giants, it suggests pressure against hate speech, conspiracy theories, and harassment of grieving parents does work — so to those who'd like to see hate speech off the Internet, keep it up.