Twitter’s chief executive has put the onus on journalists to “document, validate and refute” unsubstantiated rumours spread by the likes of US conspiracy theory website Infowars after taking the decision not to ban the controversial channel from its platform.
The micro-blogging website is alone among its social media peers in not suspending Infowars or its founder Alex Jones (pictured) this week. Facebook, Youtube, Apple and music streaming site Spotify all proscribed Infowars channels from their sites on Monday.
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Infowars editor-at-large Paul Watson described the bans in a video statement as “political censorship” and a “purge” that suggested “big tech collusion”.
Jack Dorsey, who co-founded Twitter in 2006 and now runs the company, tweeted: “Accounts like Jones’ can often sensationalize issues and spread unsubstantiated rumors, so it’s critical journalists document, validate, and refute such information directly so people can form their own opinions.
“This is what serves the public conversation best.”
Facebook said in a blog post on Monday that it had taken down four pages related to Infowars and Jones after users flagged videos shared on the pages for hate speech and bullying last week.
It said the pages had been removed “for glorifying violence” and using “dehumanising language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims and immigrants” in violation of its policies.
Although seemingly aware of concerns over “false news” published by Infowars, Facebook said none of the violations were related to this.
Apple has deleted most Infowars podcasts, telling Reuters it “does not tolerate hate speech” and will remove podcasts that violate its guidelines.
The Alex Jones Channel on Youtube displayed a banner saying the account had been terminated for violating community guidelines on Monday. A spokesperson said that “repeated violation of policies such as those prohibiting hate speech and harassment led to termination of accounts”.
Music and podcast company Spotify said it had removed all of Jones’s Infowars programs from its platform due to “repeated violations of Spotify’s prohibited content policies”.
Jones broadcast a statement today in which he said he had been the victim of a “concerted plan to erase my electronic identity”.
He accused “mainstream corporate media, with its dying audiences” of being “engines of censorship and harassment” who “try to then shut down all of their competition”. He added: “They are now terrorist organisations, most of them on the Communist Chinese payroll…”
“Infowars is under attack,” Jones said, “because it knows what the [US] President knows but has been advised not to say because it could damage the stock market and kill confidence…”
Both Jones and Watson used Twitter-owned live-video platform Periscope to broadcast their statements.
Jones’s broadcast, delivered from an Infowars studio, included an advert for Ultimate Fish Oil, which he described as “solid liquid consciousness”, sold by its commercial arm Infowarslife.
Jones is currently fighting a defamation suit brought by parents of victims of the Sandy Hook mass shooting that left 20 children and six adults dead at the Connecticut school in 2012.
Jones has propagated a theory that the shooting was faked to promote tighter gun control in the US and used actors. Families say the claims have resulted in them being harassed and abused.
The broadcaster was forced to apologise for his role in sharingthe Pizzagate conspiracy theory, which wrongly claimed a child sex ring involving Hilary Clinton operated out of a pizza restaurant in Washington DC.
The rumour prompted a man to open fire in the restaurant. Jones’s apology appears to have been removed from the Infowars website, although it has been reported by the New York Times and NPR.
Dorsey said Twitter did not suspend Jones or Infowars yesterday because he had not violated the micro-blogging website’s rules.
In a thread on Twitter, he said: “We didn’t suspend Alex Jones or Infowars yesterday. We know that’s hard for many but the reason is simple: he hasn’t violated our rules.
“We’ll enforce if he does. And we’ll continue to promote a healthy conversational environment by ensuring tweets aren’t artificially amplified.
“Truth is we’ve been terrible at explaining our decisions in the past. We’re fixing that. We’re going to hold Jones to the same standard we hold to every account, not taking one-off actions to make us feel good in the short term, and adding fuel to new conspiracy theories.
“If we succumb and simply react to outside pressure, rather than straightforward principles we enforce (and evolve) impartially regardless of political viewpoints, we become a service that’s constructed by our personal views that can swing in any direction. That’s not us.”
Picture: Infowars Press Kit