The Current

Banning Alex Jones, Infowars could 'backfire,' tech journalist says

The rules invoked to ban Alex Jones and Infowars from online platforms have existed for years, says a technology writer. By not addressing the issue until now, companies have allowed his popularity and influence to grow.

Platforms acting in unison could lead to more conspiracy theories, warns tech writer

Several online giants, including Apple and Facebook, removed Infowars' content earlier this week, saying that founder and host Alex Jones had violated terms of service. (Tamir Kalifa/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

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The "irony" of the recent online ban on right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is that his influence has been allowed to grow while flouting rules that have existed for years, according to a technology writer.

"Alex Jones has been able to become so popular because he's been espousing these lies for so many years, and nobody has done anything to stop them," said April Glaser, who writes for Slate Magazine.

Jones, who founded the far-right broadcast Infowars in 1999, has earned notoriety for promoting conspiracy theories to a vast audience. His claims have included that the 9/11 attacks were staged by the U.S. government and high-profile Democrats were running a child-sex ring out of a Washington D.C. pizza restaurant.

Earlier this week, Apple, YouTube, Facebook and Spotify removed Infowars podcasts and channels from their platforms, saying that host Jones had broken community standards. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey refused to follow suit, saying that Jones had not violated the platform's rules and "people can form their own opinions."  Apple and Facebook did not respond to The Current's request for comment in the wake of their decision.

But waiting this long to address Jones's content could actually "backfire," Glaser told The Current's guest host Laura Lynch.

What Alex Jones was doing was causing real world harm.- April Glaser

"[This] will play into Alex Jones's narrative that he's being censored by this liberal cabal of Silicon Valley powerful companies," she said.

"The truth is that there are only a few companies that control the majority of mainstream internet platforms, and when they all act in unison — at the same time — that could lead to more conspiracy theories.

Jones has responded to the ban by calling it "21st-century warfare," and an attack on his right to free speech. He called on U.S. President Donald Trump to intervene.

Online giants need greater transparency

Glaser believes removing Infowars was "probably the right move because what Alex Jones was doing was causing real world harm."

He has repeatedly asserted that the massacre of children at Sandy Hook was faked as part of a plot to undermine Second Amendment gun ownership rights. Several of the children's families — who have been harassed and threatened by people who believe the conspiracy theory — have filed lawsuits against Jones.​

Lucy Richards was sentenced to five months in prison after leaving threatening voicemails for the parents of Noah Pozner, a six-year-old victim of the Sandy Hook massacre. (Paula McMahon/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Glaser said companies need to recognize their own power and improve transparency around decisions like this.

"They can't just simply say: 'This violates our community standards,' and then send a link to their community standards, which have vague language about hate speech," she told Lynch. "They need to say what the person said that was actually hate speech."

"When a company as powerful as Facebook decides that you're not going to be able to use their platform, they're essentially shutting you down from having a media empire."

Listen to the full discussion near the top of this page.

This segment was produced by The Current Julie Crysler, Donya Ziaee, Allie Jaynes and Idella Sturino.