Update, 12:24 p.m. Now YouTube has banned the Alex Jones Channel, which has 2.4 million followers. The Google-owned company said, “All users agree to comply with our Terms of Service and Community Guidelines when they sign up to use YouTube. When users violate these policies repeatedly, like our policies against hate speech and harassment or our terms prohibiting circumvention of our enforcement measures, we terminate their accounts.”
Update, 11:41 a.m. Facebook has now “unpublished” four Infowars pages on the platform, saying that they had violated its community standards. “Upon review, we have taken it down for glorifying violence, which violates our graphic violence policy, and using dehumanizing language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims and immigrants, which violates our hate speech policies,” the company explained in a blog post. Original post below.
Listeners of Alex Jones’ podcasts who subscribed via iTunes are going to have to find a new way to get their regular audio fix from the Infowars media empire. On Sunday night, BuzzFeed reported that Apple had removed five of the six podcasts run by the Infowars network that were available on iTunes, including popular shows like War Room and the Alex Jones Show, the entire archives of which have been scrubbed from the iTunes Store. By Monday morning, Spotify had followed Apple’s lead and decided to boot the Alex Jones Show from its podcast channel, too.
The Infowars podcasts are still available on many other podcast apps, like Pocket Casts, and Spotify still hosts other Infowars shows, like War Room. So it’s not like Infowars’ podcast listeners are out of luck entirely. Plus, Infowars still has its official app available for download in the Apple App Store, where it boasts a five-star rating, ranks No. 56 among all news apps for iPhone, and has amassed more than 2,500 ratings from listeners. While Apple isn’t exactly kicking Alex Jones to the curb, its decision to remove the five Infowars shows from its massively popular podcast library is still the largest action taken to date by a tech platform to remove news programs that promote conspiracy theories.
Last week, Spotify removed a handful of Infowars podcast episodes from its apps on the charge that the shows violated the companies’ policies against hate speech. The week before that, both Facebook and YouTube also removed a small subset of videos from Alex Jones’ official pages and gave the Infowars chief a temporary suspension. Still, Jones’ surrogates have continued to post videos on Infowars’ various YouTube channels, and although Jones is barred from administering his popular Facebook pages for the next few weeks, others in his network have continued to post videos of Jones ranting about the news on his verified page. But neither YouTube nor Facebook nor Spotify has taken steps to outright remove Infowars’ presence from their platforms at the level Apple did with its podcast library.
For years, Jones has been using his huge social media presence to grow his audience for dangerous conspiracy theories, false news, and hate speech, including most recently the unfounded claim that special counsel Robert Mueller has a history of pedophilia—which Facebook said didn’t violate its community rules. Thanks in part to these social media companies, Jones’ content has crept from the fringes onto the screens of millions. Take his allegation that the teenage survivors of the Parkland, Florida, shooting were paid actors working on behalf of gun control advocates. There was his false claim that the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax and his role in spreading the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, which led to real-world violence. Infowars boosted all of these theories on major social media sites, with videos, podcasts, and articles that have attracted millions of views. And after the suspensions on YouTube and Facebook are over, Jones will be able to do the same until he gets put in timeout again.
Instead of making Jones go dark for a few weeks, Apple essentially decided that if it is going to have a policy against hate speech, then continuing to host Alex Jones would be inconsistent with its policy. “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,” a company spokesperson told BuzzFeed in a statement. “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,” the statement continued. The company faced pressure from activists and journalists asking if it would follow other social networks’ lead.
But what about the Infowars app, which is listed as a “news” app in the Apple App Store? According to Apple’s App Store guidelines, the company has rules against the exact type of content Jones has built his multimedia empire on, including “defamatory, discriminatory, or mean-spirited content … particularly if the app is likely to humiliate, intimidate, or place a targeted individual or group in harm’s way.”
But since the Infowars app doesn’t contain a library of past shows, it’s not immediately clear that the app has been used to promote the conspiracy theories that Jones routinely peddles in. Nor is it clear where Apple should draw the line. After all, if Spotify decides to continue to host Infowars shows that make false allegations about victims of mass shootings, would that put Spotify in violation of Apple’s rules? If Apple kicked Infowars’ iPhone app out of the App Store, that would effectively mean that no iPhone users could access the app, period. With podcasts, at least if a show is not available on one app, it should be on another. I contacted Apple for comment about the Infowars app and will update this piece if I hear back.
But Apple isn’t just a marketplace for apps, a purportedly neutral platform. It runs its own apps too, including the popular iTunes Store and Podcasts app, and there, Apple has chosen to enforce the rules it already had on the books, thus making Jones’ content just a little harder to find. If other platforms and web services start to do the same, as Spotify did Monday morning by removing the Alex Jones Show from its library, Jones’ voice could become a lot harder to hear across the entire internet.