Friday, September 14, 2018

Et Tu, Twitter?

Last month Alex Jones and Infowars were kicked off Facebook, YouTube, and Apple. This month Twitter has followed suit, permanently banning the conspiracy theorist or performance artist or whatever Jones is calling himself these days from its platform. Jones problems have been long in the making. In order to keep his audience happy, he has made more and more outrageous suggestions about various nefarious goings-on and finally, over the last couple years, some members of his audience have started committing crimes based on segments from his show. Given the harassment of and attacks on innocent people, it seems to me that it's about time.

On Thursday, though, Twitter said it would permanently suspend Mr. Jones’s account, as well as the account for Infowars. The social media company said Mr. Jones had posted messages within the previous 24 hours that violated its policies, which prohibit direct threats of violence and some forms of hate speech but allow deception or misinformation.

“Today, we permanently suspended @realalexjones and @infowars from Twitter and Periscope,” the company posted on its Safety account. “We took this action based on new reports of Tweets and videos posted yesterday that violate our abusive behavior policy, in addition to the accounts’ past violations.”

Today, we permanently suspended @realalexjones and @infowars from Twitter and Periscope. We took this action based on new reports of Tweets and videos posted yesterday that violate our abusive behavior policy, in addition to the accounts’ past violations.
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) September 6, 2018

Twitter announced its decision after weeks of will-they-won’t-they scrutiny on whether it would remove Mr. Jones and Infowars from its service. When Facebook, Apple, YouTube and others took down Mr. Jones’s content in early August, Twitter’s chief executive, Jack Dorsey, said Mr. Jones’s posts had not violated the company’s policies. That prompted criticism, since Mr. Jones has regularly spread lies, including that the Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax.

Company policies aside, the bottom line is that while Jones has free speech rights, they do not extend to "inciting speech." And it's pretty ridiculous for Jones to try and argue that information from his program that incited real people to commit real crimes for which several of them have been convicted somehow doesn't qualify as "inciting." The bottom line is that Jones has gotten a lot of attention and made a lot of money posting eyeball-grabbing awful stuff that plays to peoples' worst impulses. Infowars is basically a whole channel of clown sex stabbings, and for a while Jones was rewarded accordingly.

In response to my last article on Jones, a couple of posters on Facebook contended that this could have the effect of making him more famous than ever, since he would be seen as a martyr for free speech or something like that. I'll admit that maybe it will. But giving him access to a huge audience sure isn't working, and it's about time that we tried something else. The circulation of news stories seems to be directly related to the largest news outlet that covers it rather than any sort of organic "virality" or whatever made-up word you want to use for it, so according to the math the loss of these platforms should reduce his influence. But realistically, we won't know until we get some idea of the traffic going directly to Jones' web site.

Further down the line, I keep hoping that crazy stories like the stuff from Infowars will inoculate people on the Internet against believing really ridiculous stuff, and help reinforce critical thinking skills. So far that hasn't happened, so perhaps I'm too optimistic about the whole thing. A good rule is that if something is (A) outlandish and (B) really pisses you off, you should go ahead and research it very carefully before assuming it's true and certainly before taking action based on it. From my side of the political fence I'll admit that's true of a lot of policies pushed by Trump and the Republican Party, but I do try to apply that rule myself as well - and it's generally easy to do so with official government actions that are well-documented.

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