The Persistence of 'InfoWars': Why It Took So Long to Ban Alex Jones
'InfoWars' has always violated community standards — why are platforms just addressing it now?
It would appear as if the properties of noted conspiracy theorist Alex Jones are on their last breath, as tech companies and platforms across the internet have begun to remove and ban materials from his InfoWars network. On Monday, YouTube made what seems to to be the most consequential step yet in the movement against the figure by banning “The Alex Jones Channel,” which had 2.4 million subscribers and was the primary form of dissemination for InfoWars videos.
The removals are a decisive step towards addressing the seeming explosion of conspiracy theorists and purveyors of fake news on the internet, but the sudden wave of decisions raises the question, “why now?”
Jones Has Been A Constant Violator of Community Standards
Facebook, YouTube, Apple, and Spotify have all deleted Jones’ material referencing community guidelines around hate content, but the timing is curious, considering the fact that Jones has seemingly violated the rules for years.
According to LGBT rights group GLAAD, Jones has consistently targeted LGBT people with hateful content. Some examples from GLAAD’s list of Jones’ anti-LGBT content include repeated assertions that LGBT people want to indoctrinate children, the claim that “the LGBT community” is to blame for the Pulse nightclub shooting, the claim that “nellies” are literally kidnapping children from straight couples and bringing them to “a very wicked nelly command base,” and the claim that “a chemical warfare operation” is turning people gay. The claims are not only false but also illustrate a pattern of directed hate.
His statements on LGBT people are just one example of false, pointed content that should fall under various hate policies. Jones was also a proponent of the racist Birther conspiracy theory, which alleged that President Obama was actually born in Kenya.
The Sandy Hook Trial and Qanon
Despite the fact that Jones has been a questionable presence on social media and content platforms for years, it appears that a few recent events may have finally pushed tech companies over the edge.
Last week, two cases concerning Jones began in Austin, Texas. One is a defamation case brought by families of those killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, which Jones has said was faked. According to the victims’ relatives, Jones’ claims have resulted in online harassment. Jones has asked that the case be dismissed, and that the victims’ families pay his legal fees. The other case is being brought by Marcel Fontaine, who InfoWars falsely identified as the Parkland, Florida school shooter, despite the fact that Fontaine claims to have never been to the state.
The two cases bring to light the real damage the InfoWars and Jones have caused and highlight some of his most unsavory theories — good incentive for companies to start the process of removing Jones from their platforms. They also suggest an element of liability for the platforms themselves, who play host to the content that’s the subject of the lawsuits. But that aspect isn’t new. InfoWars has previously been the subject of lawsuits. In 2017, InfoWars agreed to retract statements it had made about yogurt producer Chobani, which InfoWars connected to a sexual assault case in Idaho and increased tuberculosis rates by saying it employed “migrant rapists,” after Chobani filed suit against InfoWars.
Jones and online conspiracy theorists have also gained more attention as of late because of the breakout proliferation of the Qanon which has notably had large followings at recent Trump rallies and shown up in the news when a man blocked traffic on a bridge spanning the Hoover Dam, holding a sign with a Qanon slogan, “release the OIG report.” Qanon is the theory that an anonymous person or group named Q is dropping “breadcrumbs” for followers on the dark web, which they are now trying to decipher. *InfoWars has repeatedly covered Qanon, and in December 2017, Jones himself made a video about the theory.
A Political Movement
Aside from recent events in the news that have brought InfoWars increased scrutiny from tech companies, is the fact that they have faced a targeted political campaign meant to apply pressure to drop InfoWars content.
The movement has largely been led by an anonymous activist group called Sleeping Giants, which was founded days after the 2016 election. The goal of the group is to target the revenue of “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and anti-Semitic news sites by stopping their ad dollars.”
The group has largely focused on pressuring companies to blacklist Steve Bannon’s Breitbart, but it’s recently focused on questioning large tech companies that host content from InfoWars. While it’s not clear what the exact effect of the pressure from the group was, they are notable in that their criticism of tech companies was early and unique.
A Cascade Effect
Perhaps the clearest reason for the wave of action against Alex Jones and InfoWars is simply that fact that someone broke the seal. Before anyone took action this year, *InfoWars was largely seen as occupying a gray area between news, political analysis, and hate. Even though much of the content was clearly coming from a hateful place, it was newsy and political enough to avoid censorship by platforms that feared being accused of political bias.
But in July, YouTube finally opened the floodgates against the InfoWars network when it announced that it was pulling down four Alex Jones video for violating its community guidelines. Movement against InfoWars on other platforms quickly followed. A day later, Facebook suspended Jones’ personal profile because it said four videos he had posted violated community guidelines, despite Mark Zuckerberg previously saying banning publishers of fake news “was too extreme.” Last Thursday, Spotify pulled down certain episodes of InfoWars podcasts under its hate guidelines, and Monday Apple pulled down most InfoWars podcasts and YouTube deleted Jone’s entire account. Other companies like Pinterest and LinkedIn followed their larger counterparts by banning InfoWars late Monday.
It’s likely that a combination of being given permission by other companies to act, and feeling pressure to keep up with other companies, was at play in the decisions.
Inverse has reached out to each company to inquire about the timing of the decisions. A representative from Facebook tells Inverse that their decision stemmed from individual reports that came last week and have continued into this week, causing multiple, rolling removals. A YouTube representative told The New York Times that Monday’s account deletion came as a result of continued policy violations despite the original strikes applied to Jones’ channels. Spotify and Apple did not return request for comment.
It Won’t Go Away
Despite the wave of decisions to boot InfoWars and Jones, there are some tech companies that have decided to keep Jones around.
Apple and Google, both of which banned Jones in one form, allow him in another. The InfoWars app is still available in both the Apple and Google app stores, which means the same content that was banned is still available via the app. YouTube and Apple also both allowed certain InfoWars channels to continue on.
InfoWars also still has a presence on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.
In true InfoWars fashion, Alex Jones responded to the mass (selective) ban in a video posted to Twitter, where he blamed the series of decisions on a vast conspiracy between the tech companies and China, saying that tech companies are “beta-testing” new forms of political censorship on “American conservatives.” Clearly, Alex Jones will keep broadcasting wherever he can.