Twitter muzzles conspiracy theorist Alex Jones for a week
NEW YORK (AP) — Twitter is joining other prominent tech companies in muzzling Alex Jones, the right-wing conspiracy theorist who's used their services to spread false information.
Twitter had been resisting the move despite public pressure, including some from its own employees. But the holdout lasted less than two weeks.
"They seem to be reacting to the backlash they received when so many other companies in Silicon Valley ended up taking action," said Keegan Hankes, research analyst for the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project, who focuses on far right extremist propaganda online. "It's illustrative of a broader trend of reactive enforcement" by the companies, he added.
Late Tuesday, Twitter said it had "limited" Jones' personal account for seven days because he had violated the company's rules. Jones won't be able to tweet or retweet, though he will be able to browse Twitter. The company would not comment on what the offending post said.
But in a video posted Wednesday to the Twitter account of Jones' "Infowars" show, Jones said the company suspended him and may shut him down completely because he violated its rules by posting a "video I shot last night saying (President Donald) Trump should do something about the censorship of the internet."
Later Wednesday, Twitter put the Infowars account on the same seven-day timeout as Jones, apparently for posting the same video.
Paul Joseph Watson, the editor-at-large for Infowars, posted a screenshot of a Twitter notice that said Jones had his account "temporarily limited" because he violated its rules against "targeted harassment of someone, or (inciting) other people to do so."
The video is no longer available on Twitter or Periscope, where Jones posted it. But it is still up elsewhere on the web. In it, Jones says people "need to have their battle rifles and everything ready at their bedsides and you got to be ready because the media is so disciplined in their deception."
This punishment is light compared with that leveled by Apple, YouTube and Spotify, which permanently removed material Jones had published. Facebook, meanwhile, suspended him for 30 days and took down four of his pages, including two for Infowars.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey had originally defended his company's decision not to ban Jones, tweeting that Jones "hasn't violated our rules" but if he does "we'll enforce."
"We're going to hold Jones to the same standard we hold to every account, not taking one-off actions to make us feel good in the short term, and adding fuel to new conspiracy theories," Dorsey tweeted on Aug. 7, after the other companies took action against Jones.
The apparent change of heart reflects a Twitter still grasping to its roots as a free-wheeling Wild West of the internet in an age where online words can have serious real-life consequences. This while it and other social media companies are grappling with how to enforce sometimes vague rules without appearing partisan and while leaning toward promoting, rather than curbing, free speech.
When deciding what the rules are and how to enforce them — especially when it comes to gray areas — they are up against both conservatives and liberals claiming bias and feeling silenced. There are also users who often just want to post about their daily lives, and even against their own employees, be they free speech absolutists or those who feel people like Jones do not deserve an online megaphone.
"The platforms cannot win because some constituency will be offended no matter what they do," said Nathaniel Persily, a professor at Stanford Law School.
Twitter, Hankes said, is either underequipped or unwilling to enforce its written rules, instead embracing the idea of an online free-speech utopia. But, he added, "the unchecked use of these platforms by bad actors does not make utopia."