Infowars apparently scrambled Thursday to avoid getting kicked off Twitter — the only big digital platform that hasn’t yet booted the hate-mongering media outfit — by deleting old posts that violated the social-media company’s terms of service.
Twitter chief Jack Dorsey defended the company’s decision on Tuesday to not suspend Infowars and its founder, Alex Jones, from the platform after YouTube, Facebook, Apple, Spotify and others took action to delete or block the far-right conspiracy theory site’s accounts or content. Dorsey, in a series of tweets, claimed Infowars had not violated Twitter’s policies.
However, in a report Thursday, CNN cited about 20 past tweets from the accounts of Infowars and Jones that, by all appearances, did indeed contravene Twitter’s prohibitions against hateful conduct and harassment.
After CNN’s report was published, all 20 of the Infowars tweets were deleted. Twitter said that it did not remove the posts.
The now-deleted tweets by Infowars and Jones that were cited in the report included posts attacking transgender and Muslim people; claims that the 2012 shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a hoax perpetrated by “crisis actors”; and a video that called David Hogg, a survivor of the Parkland, Fla., high-school shooting, a Nazi.
It’s possible that after the CNN report, Twitter notified Infowars that the tweets violated its policies and that the company would disable the accounts unless the tweets were removed. It’s puzzling, however, that with Infowars and Jones in the national spotlight, Twitter had not already done this.
Twitter VP of trust and safety Del Harvey acknowledged in an internal memo (which she posted on Wednesday) that Jones in the past has posted material that would violate Twitter’s anti-harassment policies, citing the Sandy Hook conspiracy theories, but she claimed at the time those tweets weren’t explicitly banned. “If he were to post similar accusations today, we would take action on them,” Harvey wrote. “If people report past content of his that includes those types of accusations, we would require him to remove it but would not further penalize him as we work to avoid retroactive applications of our policy.”
Infowars has become the test case of how Silicon Valley giants deal with the issue of whether to block or allow misinformation and inflammatory content that targets specific groups.
While Infowars and its sympathizers have claimed censorship following the actions of YouTube, Facebook, Apple and others, all internet-content platforms specifically reserve the right to suspend users or delete content found to be in violation of their guidelines. (In fact, the terms of service for Infowars.com itself includes such a provision.) It’s also worth noting that the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment applies to government regulation of speech — not to private-sector companies — and even then, it does not protect defamatory speech or incitements to violence.
Meanwhile, Apple and Google have not removed the Infowars Official app, which provides live-streaming access to its programming, from their respective app stores. Following the purge of Infowars by big tech companies earlier this week, the Infowars app has been trending: Currently, it’s ranked No. 3 in the “News” category of Apple’s App Store, behind Twitter and News Break and ahead of apps for news organizations including CNN, Fox News, the New York Times, and BuzzFeed.