August 13, 2018
Last week, Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist, infamous for spreading fake news on social networking channels and his own website, has finally been banned on all but one of the social media channels-Twitter.
Not so long ago, Jones was also sued by the parents of Sandy Hook shooting victims, which he claimed was an elaborate hoax created by the gun-control supporters. The online conspiracy theorist has spread many other implausible theories amongst his ever-growing following, making it imperative for the social media channels to take another step in the misinformation war and ban him altogether.
The first to ban him was Facebook, which had already suffered the consequences of being the primary platform for the spread of fake news during Donald Trump’s US President campaigns, now banning an individual with millions of followers could have easily led to political blow back. Furthermore, the first amendment, which though no private company is under the obligations to follow, promotes freedom of expression without inhibition and intrusions from the government. Now, companies like Twitter and Facebook which, because of their sheer size and effect on society appears to be quasi-public, take on the constitutional responsibility and follow its principles.
Therefore, it was a consequential action when Facebook, and later on Spotify and YouTube, took down Jones’ channels. The media and the general public, except of course Jones’ loyal followers, have appreciated the move, pointing out that doing so is not even a violation against the amendment.
Jones has been known for publishing unlawful content that promotes violence, and discrimination against immigrants, and therefore, banning his social media accounts is a move that has become necessary for the successful elimination of misinformation on social media.
That being said, it was rather confusing why Twitter didn’t follow suit and is still hosting his account on the platform with a followership of 884K. CEO Jack Dorsey’s tweet on the subject stated ‘he hasn’t violated our rules’ as the reason for not blocking him. This makes the situation even more baffling, as CNN itself has pointed out how Jones’ has already broken the content policies of the platform, on several occasions.
Out of the many possibilities, some theories have surfaced on the media which provides an explanation on the lack of action from Twitter. As Will Oremus, a Technology Columnist at Slate Magazine pointed out, the reason could be as simple as the company’s bias towards inaction, or it could be a conservative stance to safeguard itself against the title of ‘partisan’. Speculations are also being made that Twitter too will finally remove Alex’s account, and is presently having an internal discussion on making the move.
Nevertheless, people have started feeling discontent towards this dithering and have even begun a protest against it. Yesterday Shannon Coulter, co-founder at Grab Your Wallet, tweeted a method to encourage Twitter to drop the account of Alex Jones. With a thread clarifying the business model of Twitter and a tool that allows users to block ad content en-masse. The tool will automatically remove the ad-block as soon as Twitter boots Jones’s account, compelling the involved companies through which Twitter makes its money, to create the needed pressure for blocking Alex Jones.
This is not the first time a social media platform has done something against the wishes of the general public. We have seen how a single post from Kylie Jenner has costSnapChat $1.5 billion in a day. Though earlier such protests have shown their effectiveness, it’s too soon to predict how it all might turn out. Though it is even harder to say how this move by the remainder of big social platformsis going affect the future as well as the role of big-tech responsibility.
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