Joy and anger as Twitter bans Alex Jones

Losing the info war: Jones’s website receives approximately 10 million monthly visits.

Did Twitter make the right decision? The site has followed Facebook and YouTube in banning the right-wing conspiracy theorist. His views may be extreme — but fear is growing over big tech censorship.

The government controls the weather as part of a global conspiracy to enslave ordinary people. The September 11 attacks were an “inside job”. Michelle Obama is a man. The Pentagon creates homosexuality by allowing chemicals to leak into the water supply. The Sandy Hook school shooting was “completely faked with actors”.

This is the world according to Alex Jones.

His red-faced displays of rage led him to become one of the most infamous and outlandish figures on the American right.

And also one of the most popular. On Thursday, Twitter suspended his account permanently, as well as the account of his website, Infowars. This follows a similar move made by Apple, Facebook and YouTube. Jones had 900,000 followers on Twitter and his YouTube videos were regularly watched by over a million people.

Last week, Twitter founder and CEO Jack Dorsey appeared in front of House and Senate members to discuss, among other things, allegations that the site censors right-wing voices.

Dorsey was assailed by a snarling Jones, who was also videoed delivering a verbal volley to CNN’s Oliver Darcy, who had previously pointed out instances where Jones had broken Twitter rules and lobbied the company to ban him.

Twitter said the ban was because of “new reports of tweets and videos posted [on Wednesday] that violate our abusive behaviour policy, in addition to the accounts’ past violations.”

As the US midterm elections approach, fears are growing among President Donald Trump’s supporters that big tech is deliberately stifling their message.

Trump has accused Twitter of bias, which Dorsey has denied. However, he did admit the company’s algorithms have not always been “impartial”, and that the platform had “unfairly” reduced the visibility of 600,000 accounts.

Now many Republicans favour government intervention in big tech companies on the grounds that their policies violate the right to free speech.

Should Twitter have banned Alex Jones?

Silenced

Jones is not just controversial, say some — he’s a proven liar who harasses his enemies and offends millions. Twitter is a private company, and its terms of use are its own prerogative: if someone violates them they should be banned. Jones is one of the world’s chief purveyors of fake news. Good riddance.

Many politicians are proven liars as well, reply others. Should they be banned too? The truth is that many of Jones’s views are in tune with those of a huge number of people. These views should be debated, not banned. Everyone knows big tech companies have a liberal bias. Twitter has banned Jones because it disagrees with him — it’s that simple. This sets a very dangerous precedent.

You Decide

  1. Should Twitter have banned Alex Jones?
  2. Should the government intervene in social media companies to ensure that they stay politically neutral?

Activities

  1. Imagine you were interviewing Alex Jones. What three questions would you ask him?
  2. Draw up a social media “bill of rights”, explaining what you think tech companies can and cannot do.

Some People Say...

“There’s a war on for your mind!”

Tagline of Infowars

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Alex Jones and the official account of his website, Infowars, have been permanently banned by Twitter. Back in August, Facebook, YouTube and Apple all banned Jones, but Twitter raised eyebrows by allowing him to continue on their site. We know that Twitter and other tech companies have banned a number of high profile people on the fringe of the right-wing movement.
What do we not know?
Just how biased Twitter is. It says that it does not ban people based on their political beliefs, but that its algorithms may have led to some people (including members of the US Congress) having their use of Twitter limited. We also do not know whether Trump will follow through on his promise to intervene to make sure tech companies do not censor based on politics.

Word Watch

Sandy Hook school shooting
The incident occurred when 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot 20 children and six staff members at an elementary school in Connecticut. President Barack Obama proposed universal background checks on firearm purchases and an assault weapons ban in reaction to the shooting.
Alex Jones
The 44-year-old was born in Dallas. He founded Infowars in 1999 and has written two books.
Algorithms
A sequence of instructions or a set of rules that are followed to complete a task.
Reduced the visibility
This is also known as “shadow-banning” — a term that Twitter says is “inaccurate”.
Government intervention in big tech
In late July, Trump tweeted: “Twitter ‘SHADOW BANNING’ prominent Republicans. Not good. We will look into this discriminatory and illegal practice at once! Many complaints.”
Many of Jones’s views
For example, support for total freedom of speech and support for the Second Amendment.