Social media platforms have come under considerable criticism for allowing controversial media outlets for as long as ‘fake news’ has been in the public lexicon. But over the past week, major actions against Alex Jones’ content channels suggests that things might be changing. Apple has pulled 5 out of Jones 6 podcasts from iTunes (first reported by Buzzfeed News), while hours later on Monday 6 August Facebook announced it was removing four of Jones’ pages for breaching the platform’s content guidelines.
Alongside Facebook’s and Apple’s actions, Spotify also made the decision to remove Jones’ content from the streaming platform and revoke his ability to publish “due to repeated violations of Spotify’s prohibited content policies” according to a Spotify spokesperson.
This news comes just weeks after YouTube removed a number of Infowars videos over ‘hate speech’ and initiated a 90 day ban on Infowars broadcasting live via YouTube.
Unsurprisingly, the move has come under attack from those who see the move as an example of censorship. Even people critical of Jones’ politics have come out to voice their unease:
Whether you agree or disagree with @RealAlexJones, #infowars or anybody should never be censored or banned for using their first amendment rights. Orwell’s 1984 is in fruition and me must neutralise it.
— Joe Barnes (@realJoeBarnes) August 6, 2018
However, elsewhere, the move is viewed positively with commentators suggesting social media platforms are starting to take responsibility for the content published on their systems.
There’s a reason network TV would never give Alex Jones or the NRA air time for their own shows. So why do tech companies? Facebook, Spotify, Apple, Amazon, Google are also media companies these days. They have to start taking more responsibility for their content.
— Shannon Coulter (@shannoncoulter) August 3, 2018
One thing that can be agreed is that the situation is a little confusing at the moment. And although it’s true that it’s time for Facebook, and other platforms to take more responsibility for what they publish, there are still issues around governance and consistency that need to be worked through and resolved.
Facebook’s action against Alex Jones – a recent timeline
On July 27, Alex Jones was hit with a 30 day suspension by Facebook after the company removed 4 videos from its site that contravened its content guidelines. However, as numerous outlets reported at the time, this ban only effected Jones personally. His channels (like The Alex Jones Channel and Infowars) weren’t impacted.
However, those pages that weren’t hit by Jones’ personal ban have now been removed by Facebook.
In a post published August 6, Facebook explained:
“…we removed four videos on four Facebook Pages for violating our hate speech and bullying policies. These pages were the Alex Jones Channel Page, the Alex Jones Page, the InfoWars Page and the Infowars Nightly News Page…”
The post also asserts that the ban is about violation of community standards not ‘false news’.
“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.”
Apple’s action against Alex Jones
Apple’s decision to remove 5 of Alex Jones podcasts is, according to Buzzfeed News, “one of the largest enforcement actions intended to curb conspiratorial news content by a technology company to date.”
Like Facebook, Apple’s decision was based on the content’s “hate speech” rather than anything to do with ‘fake news’. An Apple spokesperson explained to Buzzfeed News:
“Apple does not tolerate hate speech, and we have clear guidelines that creators and developers must follow to ensure we provide a safe environment for all of our users… Podcasts that violate these guidelines are removed from our directory making them no longer searchable or available for download or streaming. We believe in representing a wide range of views, so long as people are respectful to those with differing opinions.”
Spotify’s action against Alex Jones’ podcasts
Spotify removed all episodes of The Alex Jones Show podcast on Monday 6 August.
This follows the music streaming platform pulling a number of individual episodes of Jones’ podcast at the beginning of August. This appears to be a consequence of Spotify’s new content guidelines, updated in May 2018, which prohibits “hate content.”
The takeaway: there’s still considerable confusion over content
What this debacle shows is that there’s confusion about how social media platforms should deal with content that it effectively publishes. Clearly, the likes of Facebook are trying to walk a tightrope that’s going to take some time to resolve.
The broader question is not just do we want to police the platforms billions of people use, but how we do that as well. Arguably, social media is at the center of today’s political struggles, with many of them unsure how to manage the levels of responsibility that have landed on on their algorithms.