Facebook and YouTube shut down accounts Monday run by radio host Alex Jones, saying his charged rhetoric violated their policies and were detracting from their efforts to spawn a civil conversation.
Apple also said it nixed Mr. Jones‘ podcast from its iTunes subscription lists, and Spotify erased the host’s program from its feed, as social media companies began to take a more active role in policing their content.
The decision ignited a debate in technology circles, with even some of Mr. Jones‘ critics wondering whether social media companies are capable of, or should be, policing content to this extent.
Mr. Jones denounced the moves as political censorship, but the companies said they no longer felt comfortable with helping connect him to their users.
Facebook said it first took down four videos last week. After complaints continued, Facebook “unpublished” four pages in their entirety on Monday: the Alex Jones Channel Page, the Alex Jones Page, the Infowars Page, and Infowars Nightly News Page.
“As a result of reports we received, last week, we removed four videos on four Facebook Pages for violating our hate speech and bullying policies,” the company said in a statement. “Since then, more content from the same pages has been reported to us — 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.”
YouTube removed the Alex Jones Channel and the Infowars Interviews channel Monday afternoon, saying they violated policies on violent or graphic content.
Visitors to the pages now see a message alerting them to the action: “This account has been terminated for violating YouTube’s Community Guidelines.”
Two weeks earlier, YouTube restricted the Alex Jones Channel from posting live streams.
Mr. Jones predicted months ago that his channel would be shut down.
However, the Infowars Documentaries channel that Mr. Jones touted as a replacement was still published on YouTube as of Monday afternoon. Nine videos were viewable.
Mr. Jones continued to broadcast his show and stream it on the Infowars webpage.
He also remains on Twitter, where he posted a string of responses Monday to Facebook and YouTube, including one clip captioned: “The Left is Dancing on the Grave of Infowars.”
He accused Facebook and YouTube of “demonizing” him in order to justify removing his content. He urged his viewers to “give us your love, your support like sunshine on our faces, on our backs, on our chests to make us strong.”
“Infowars is the most censored program in the world because we know the truth,” Mr. Jones said.
Mr. Jones had more than 2 million subscribers to his YouTube page before it was erased.
Critics have long derided his content as “fake news” and conspiracy-mongering, and social media observers were watching to see how companies would handle his content. But Monday’s announcements didn’t cite fake news and instead pointed to offensive content.
Facebook said it does allow sanctioned pages to appeal, but a representative said the company would not comment on whether an appeal has been lodged in this case.
Infowars editor at large Paul Watson said he considered the page gone for good.
“Facebook has permanently BANNED Infowars. For unspecified ‘hate speech.’ They didn’t even tell us what the offending posts were,” Mr. Watson tweeted. “This sets a chilling precedent for free speech.”
Mr. Watson likened American news outlets and social media outlets to the authoritarian governments and accused them of censorship.
“Whether you love or loathe Infowars, this now confirms that Big Tech is working with legacy media to silence independent media,” he wrote. “In places like Russia, the government shuts down the press, in America, CNN, Apple and Facebook fulfill that role.”
In a follow-up tweet, Mr. Watson included a comparison to China. “This is Chinese-style web control. Here and now. In the west,” he said.
Liberal activists and some news networks had called for Mr. Jones to be restricted or kicked off Twitter as well.
Yet other major players, including WikiLeaks, pushed back. They said Infowars “has frequent nonsense” but also provides a valuable critique of government power.
“Which publisher in the world with millions of subscribers is next to be wiped out for cultural transgression?” WikiLeaks wondered on Twitter.
Brent Bozell, president of the conservative Media Research Center, also denounced the companies’ actions.
“I don’t support Alex Jones and what Infowars produces. He’s not a conservative. However, banning him and his outlet is wrong,” Mr. Bozell said in a statement. “It’s not just a slippery slope, it’s a dangerous cliff that these social media companies are jumping off to satisfy CNN and other liberal outlets.”
Ben Shapiro, the editor in chief of The Daily Wire, called Infowars a “dumpster fire” and Mr. Jones a “nut case” but wrote that the swift termination from Infowars is a sterling example of “the political Left” using deliberately ambiguous guidelines to target anyone they wish under the guise of combating “hate speech.”
“These policies are extraordinarily vague,” Mr. Shapiro said. “These policies aren’t merely designed to crack down on speech openly advocating or threatening violence, or containing obscenity. These policies are deliberately unclear as well as political.”
He warned that the social media giants “show no signs of limiting their censorship” to Infowars.
“How exactly are we supposed to trust in free and open debate when those setting the limits are openly setting them up with embedded double-standards? The answer is, we don’t. Trust in social media is declining nearly as fast as trust in media overall,” Mr. Shapiro said.
• Douglas Ernst contributed to this report.
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