In a move underscoring one of today’s most contentious debates Facebook, YouTube, Spotify and iTunes all removed various types of content from controversial political talk show host, Alex Jones and his Infowars website.

The removal of Jones’ content touches on the modern day debate over free speech and whether speech deemed hateful or inciting violence should be publicly allowed. The platforms that banned Jones’ content did so because they said his content violated company policies which do not allow hate speech.

Facebook, Spotify, iTunes, YouTube Announce Alex Jones Ban

On Monday Facebook announced it had removed four Alex Jones related pages including the Alex Jones Channel Page, the Alex Jones Page, the InfoWars Page and the Infowars Nightly News Page. Facebook said in a statement they first removed videos from the pages that violated their hate speech and bullying policies. Jones himself was put on a 30-day block for posting such content, but similar content continued to be published and thus, Facebook unpublished the pages altogether.

“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.

“All four Pages have been unpublished for repeated violations of Community Standards and accumulating too many strikes. 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,” said the Facebook statement.

Spotify removed The Alex Jones Show from its podcast listings and said in their statement, “We take reports of hate content seriously. Due to repeated violations of Spotify’s prohibited content policies, The Alex Jones Show has lost access to the Spotify platform.”

YouTube’s removal of the Alex Jones Channel from its platform may have the most dramatic impact on the show as it had 2.4 million subscribers and its videos were viewed over 1 billion times.

“When users violate … policies repeatedly, like our policies against hate speech and harassment or our terms prohibiting circumvention of our enforcement measures, we terminate their accounts,” said a spokesperson for YouTube.

Apple has also removed five podcasts related to Alex Jones and Infowars from its podcast database. Twitter, however, has not taken action against Jones or InfoWars and CNN reported a spokesperson for Twitter said neither Infowars nor Jones were currently in violation of any Twitter policies.

Hate Speech, Fake News

Jones is famously known for reporting controversial news and often doing so in a sensationalized and dramatic fashion, using dramatic stunts like taking off his shirt while reporting to engage his audience. He was widely criticized for supporting and propagating conspiracy theories like the Sandy Hook conspiracy which he argued was a hoax.

His reports have made him a target of a number of lawsuits. Parents of Sandy Hook children who were murdered in the school shooting sued him for defamation for spreading lies about the shooting. Chobani and the owners of Comet Pizza in Washington DC, which became the central figure in the Pizzagate conspiracy, have also sued Alex Jones for spreading false information.

Supporters of Jones argue he is a victim of censorship that targets conservative or right-wing media in particular.

“To all other conservative news outlets — you are next,” Paul Joseph Watson, a right-wing commentator and Infowars contributor, said on Twitter on Monday. “The great censorship purge has truly begun.”

The platforms that banned Jones’ argue he is a purveyor of hate speech and he incites or glorifies violence. Fake news was not part of their decision to ban Jones.

In recent weeks Jones’ received backlash for an on-air message he made regarding Robert Mueller, the lead investigator in the Trump Russia collusion investigation. Jones imitated firing a gun and said, “It’s not a joke. It’s not a game. It’s the real world. Politically. You’re going to get it, or I’m going to die trying, bitch. Get ready. We’re going to bang heads. We’re going to bang heads.”

Last year GLAAD, an LGBTQ rights organization, published a list of controversial statements Jones has made over the years. Some of the statements were:

  • Said transgender bathroom access is about “jacking with” children. [The Alex Jones Channel]
  • Accused the UN of being a “space cult plotting to turn children gay.” FULL QUOTE: “The reason there are so many gay people now is because it’s a chemical warfare operation,”…“I have the government documents where they said they’re going to encourage homosexuality with chemicals so people don’t have children.” [Salon]
  • “A lot of liberal women, as you know, the new thing is having a jihadi…There’s nothing sexier than a jihadi because it’s so fun to have him step on your head and kick you in the gut.” [Right Wing Watch]
  • Called for the burning the Q’ran, shutting down all mosques, and deportation of all Muslims. [YouTube: Total News T.V]
  • Infowars promotes the argument that there is “no such thing as moderate Islam.” [Infowars]

Private Organizations are Not Bound By the First Amendment

While some forms of hate speech may be protected under the First Amendment, there are exceptions. It’s also important to note that Facebook, YouTube, Spotify and iTunes are all private organizations which set their own company and user policies.

 

First Amendment lawyer Ken White, explained in a Los Angeles Time op-ed in 2017 that there are narrow exceptions to First Amendment speech protections including “obscenity, defamation, fraud, incitement, true threats and speech integral to already criminal conduct.” However, Burns noted in recent years the Supreme Court has ruled strongly in favor of protecting free speech.

 

“For decades the court has been moving towards more vigorous protection of free speech, not less. Some of the most controversial and unpopular speech to come before the court — like videos of animals being tortured, or incendiary Westboro Baptist Church protests at funerals — have yielded solid 8-to-1 majorities in favor of protecting speech,” White said.

 

But what Burns is talking about applies to government censorship of speech, private organizations are a different issue.

 

Marissa Lang addressed the issue of censorship on privately owned platforms in a San Francisco Chronicle article in 2016. As she explained, private companies are not bound by the First Amendment, and they have a right to set user policy agreements and moderate users and comments for policy violations.

“The quandary that these companies find themselves in is that they enjoy the freedom of not having any First Amendment liability, so they’re in this free zone,” said Morgan Weiland, a junior affiliate scholar at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet and Society. “They also have massive responsibility because they’re dealing with people’s freedom of expression on such a large scale that people cannot opt out and still meaningfully engage with the world.”

Emma Llanso who is the director of the Free Expression Project at the Center for Democracy and Technology told Lang that they agreed private companies have a right to set their own rules and regulations.

“When you have someone who has an account on a social platform and they’ve put their time and energy into making connections and they know that’s where their audience is, and then they get their account shut down on that service, that absolutely feels like a huge limit on their freedom of expression and can be very disruptive,” said Llanso.

“It feels like censorship. But we need to remember the difference between government-imposed censorship and a particular company not being willing to host your speech.”

 

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