Twitter Leadership Fails The Infowars Test

Twitter Leadership Fails The Infowars Test

This week several major Internet companies announced that they were taking down Infowars, Alex Jones’ inflammatory online platform. This is a case that is testing the core values of the major Internet providers and the practical applications of their community standards. Since he founded Infowars in 1999, Jones has built a massive online following, in part because of his promotion of provocative but clearly false assertions. In finally taking down Infowars accounts, Apple, Facebook, Google and Spotify made value judgments about the type of content they would not tolerate on their sites. These are private companies, and each has the power--I would say the responsibility--to make such decisions. In exercising these judgments, each company must balance the importance of free speech and allow a diversity of views against the dangers of harmful content--for example, Jones’ demonstrably false assertions about Sandy Hook or “hate speech” that further divides our society. One such principle should be that demonstrably false content, especially when it is politically motivated and designed to mislead, should not be promoted on the Internet. The deaths at Sandy Hook were senseless murders, not part of a plot to promote gun control. Like Dorsey, they contend that it is for others to determine the truth of what runs through those pipes and to refute falsehoods. These assertions are no longer viable as the speed and reach of the Internet makes old ways of combating disinformation obsolete.

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(Photo by Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

This week several major Internet companies announced that they were taking down Infowars, Alex Jones’ inflammatory online platform. Notably absent from the list was Twitter. This is a case that is testing the core values of the major Internet providers and the practical applications of their community standards. And to date, Twitter is failing those tests.

Alex Jones embodies our spreading political polarization, peddling malicious falsehoods and exacerbating racial and ethnic tensions in American society. Since he founded Infowars in 1999, Jones has built a massive online following, in part because of his promotion of provocative but clearly false assertions. He has advanced the view that September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, were staged by the U.S. government. In 2012, he opined that the killing of 26 students and teachers at a Newtown, Conn. school was staged by left-wing forces seeking to promote gun control.

Tweet on August 7 from Jack Dorsey twitter

In finally taking down Infowars accounts, Apple, Facebook, Google and Spotify made value judgments about the type of content they would not tolerate on their sites. These are private companies, and each has the power–I would say the responsibility–to make such decisions. In exercising these judgments, each company must balance the importance of free speech and allow a diversity of views against the dangers of harmful content–for example, Jones’ demonstrably false assertions about Sandy Hook or “hate speech” that further divides our society. These corporate values are codified in each company’s community standards.

When dealing with Infowars, most of these companies relied on their prohibitions against “hate speech.” Google, on Google Play, cited its standard barring “apps that promote violence, or incite hatred against individuals or groups based on race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, age, nationality, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or any other characteristic that is associated with systemic discrimination or marginalization.” Similarly, Apple explained its decision…

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