Monday was a bad day to be the internet’s most famous conspiracy theorist. After Alex Jones’ Infowars got the boot from Apple’s Podcasts app Sunday evening when the company removed five of the six Infowars podcasts from the platform, Spotify followed suit and removed the Alex Jones Show from its podcast channel, too. From there the purge broadened: Facebook moved to “unpublish” four Infowars pages—not just individual posts, as it had previously done—saying that they had violated its community standards. Then the Google-owned YouTube banned the Alex Jones Channel, which counted 2.4 million followers at the time. Now one of the few major social media platforms that hasn’t kicked out Jones and his Infowars clan is Twitter. No surprise, Jones was all over the social network Monday, shouting about censorship and globalists, while the Infowars website attempted to rally his supporters, declaring that “The war on your mind is happening right now.”
War or not, Alex Jones fans still have plenty of options to get their fix of right-fringe conspiracy-laden news: Beyond Infowars’ website, there’s the organization’s mobile app, which is still currently available for download in Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store. Slate first reported Monday morning that the Infowars app was still up in the Apple App Store despite the Apple podcast removal. At that time, the app ranked No. 56 in the App Store among news apps. By Monday evening, following the removals from Facebook and YouTube, Jones’ app had climbed to No. 7. Though Apple might merit credit for giving the other platforms some cover to take more serious action against Jones, who has been using the sites to disseminate frequently harmful false stories for years, the fact that Infowars continues to have an app on Apple’s App Store is glaring. For what it’s worth, Infowars still has a presence on LinkedIn and Instagram, too. But Monday’s bannings—and Jones’ response to them—raise a new question: Will the platforms’ actions diminish the reach of Jones’ conspiracy theories? (The more infamous of them include the false assertions that the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax and that the survivors of the Parkland, Florida, shooting are crisis actors.) Or will Jones be able to use the bans to paint himself as a free-speech martyr, further cementing his audience’s devotion?
While the dam broke on Monday, the floodwaters have been rising around Infowars for a few weeks, ever since Facebook officials struggled on a call with journalists to explain why it hadn’t found the organization to have violated its rules. Last week, however, Facebook removed a handful of videos from Alex Jones’ channels and banned him from administering his pages for a month as punishment for violating its community standards. YouTube also took down four of Jones’ videos and banned him from live-broadcasting for 90 days.
And after those initial suspensions were issued, Jones began to post articles imploring “Patriots to Spread the Word About Big Tech’s Murder of Free Speech,” as one of the headlines read last week. In this narrative, Jones was the victim and Facebook was the enemy, going so far as to argue that the platform’s alleged censorship of conservative voices is the reason why the social network’s stock took a historic dip on Thursday after its earnings calls.
Now that Facebook and YouTube have taken more decisive action, Jones is again sounding the censorship refrain. On Monday, he took the argument a step further, though, making a plea to President Donald Trump that “we need an Internet Bill of Rights and antitrust busting on these companies if they don’t back off right now.” Jones was basically making the case that with all the major platforms deciding that using their services to peddle his dangerous conspiracy theories and hate speech was no longer going to fly, he has nowhere else to go, and that is an antitrust problem.
The logic is that if there were more popular social media companies and all the control of the major platforms didn’t fall in the hands of only a few companies—namely Google, Facebook, and Apple—he wouldn’t be in such dire straits right now. And he does have a point: When only a few companies control all the major social media platforms and they all decide to ban the same person, that person is effectively censored from the mainstream internet. It’s hard to say that’s the case with Jones as of now. You can still find him through Google and other search engines, not to mention Twitter. But it’s also true that it wouldn’t take too many more companies to take action for Jones to be muzzled.
This is a problem, but not in the way Jones thinks. The concentration of ownership of internet platforms in the hands of only a small number of companies makes it easy for someone like Jones to cry that he’s being censored and his free speech rights are being infringed by a cabal of left-wing internet companies. In a way, the tech companies all deciding to do the right thing at the same time makes the entire tech industry an easy target for the vitriol of the fringe right.
One of the great ironies in this mess is that YouTube, Facebook, and Apple are all deciding to enforce community moderation policies against hate speech that they’ve long had on their books. Any one of them could have taken this action years ago. But they didn’t, perhaps fearing that they’d be labeled as censorious liberals executing a political agenda, as if there’s anything particularly partisan about preventing a popular and bigoted fabulist from using your services to spread lies that are leading to real-world harm. They helped Jones exit the fringe and penetrate the mainstream. Now their fear could be realized—they’re being labeled as left-wing tech companies acting out a political agenda by right-wing media critics.
At least the tech companies are in it together. And, of course, Jones’ fans aren’t at a total loss: Their favorite broadcaster spent the day posting videos on Twitter, collecting likes and retweets by the thousands.