As of Friday, Sept. 7, Alex Jones is persona non grata in a big chunk of social media.
The king of crazy has lost his throne.
The host of Infowars, the man whose fans and followers so deeply believed his lies they chased parents mourning their dead child into hiding, the ranting raving lunatic who bullied a senator in front of TV cameras, Jones has been banned from Twitter for life. Apple has removed his Infowars show and his personal videos and programming from app store.
For most people, this development will be met with “Finally!” or “It’s about time!” or “What took them so long!”
A spokesperson for Apple told the New York Times that Jones’ work was removed because it violated a policy that prohibits content that is “offensive, insensitive, upsetting, intended to disgust or in exceptionally poor taste.” Jones and Infowars had been removed from its podcast service on August 5, after which downloads of his app had skyrocketed, the paper notes. Anyone who downloaded the app will still have access to it, but it cannot be accessed from that store any longer.
Social media bit him in the butt
In Twitter’s case, Wired reports the final straw came over a publicity stunt.
On Wednesday, Jones and representatives from other social media companies and platforms were on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. to address a senate panel. Jones reportedly sat behind Sheryl Sandberg and Jack Dorsey, of Facebook and Twitter respectively, “berated a CNN reported as he stood in the hallways, and broadcast it all on Twitter, the last platform that would have him.”
In the middle of it was this exchange with Sen. Marco Rubio.
— TIME (@TIME) September 5, 2018
The next day, Twitter booted Jones, saying the content he posted Wednesday was in violation of the company’s abusive behavior policy, which prohibits “excessively aggressive insults that target an individual, including content that contains slurs or similar language.”
What is Jones’ problem anyway?
A reminder about Jones: He’s being sued by three families whose children were killed, either in Sandy Hook or the Parkland shooting earlier this year; he’s repeatedly given really bad and dangerous health advice; he swore that the Democrats and liberals were going to launch a civil war on July 4; called “transgenderism” a CIA plan to decrease population and “an evil pedophile plot to sexualize and destroy children”; called Barack Obama the “global head of al-Queda”; called the September 11 attacks an “inside job” and countless other ravings that don’t make a lick of sense.
To be sure, Jones is a dangerous man whose fans, followers and supporters are aggressive in their support of his madman statements. One even served jail time for sending death threats to the father of a boy killed in Newton, Conn., because she believed what she heard on Jones’ show, that the children killed in their kindergarten and first grade classes were crisis actors and the whole massacre was a hoax designed to scare the U.S. into tightening gun control legislation. (Yes, seriously.)
Will this help or hurt?
But this does raise questions of the First Amendment, what “free speech” means, and whether by cutting off some of his soapbox will Jones become some kind of martyr, especially in conservative circles, even by those who don’t always agree with him. The muting or lowering the volume and reducing the platform of a voice on the political right is a risk, especially when those same people are so quick to scream “fake news” and shout about the “lying media” in the current age.
“It’s a question that has long loomed heavy over Facebook and the rest of its social-media brethren. Armed with new reports, lawmakers are well prepared to explore it, forcing tech companies to navigate a seemingly unconquerable PR minefield as their stock, which in some cases has already felt the repercussions of similar inquiries, hangs in the balance,” writes Tina Nguyen at Vanity Fair. “Conservative members of Congress, meanwhile, are concerned with tech companies’ hypothetical ability to silence dissenting voices and the process they undergo to reach such decisions.”
This might be a situation where taking the black eye and stoking one fire helps to quell others. Could it also open the door for others to step up to the podium, grab a megaphone and pick up where Jones is leaving off, at least on those platforms? Sure. But there are also clear repercussions now for taking that action.