Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s CEO, defended his platform’s decision not to suspend conspiracy theorist Alex Jones — even after YouTube, Spotify, Apple, and Facebook all decided to ban him.
In a series of lengthy tweets on Tuesday night, Dorsey explained that, although Jones was despicable for many, he hadn’t technically violated Twitter’s rules, and if he did so, he’d be suspended. “If we succumb and simply react to outside pressure…we become a service that’s constructed by our personal views that can swing in any direction,” Dorsey said. “That’s not us.”
Dorsey then went on to explain that “critical journalists document, validate, and refute such information directly so people can form their own opinions.”
Accounts like Jones' can often sensationalize issues and spread unsubstantiated rumors, so it’s critical journalists document, validate, and refute such information directly so people can form their own opinions. This is what serves the public conversation best.
— jack (@jack) August 8, 2018
Dorsey’s tweets on Jones show a gross naivety in dealing with trolls and other far-right accounts on the site. By asking journalists to “refute such information directly” Dorsey seems to be implying that by simply fact-checking them and showing their hypocrisies, these accounts will naturally fade away.
But this doesn’t account for the legions of bots and tech-savvy trolls who will regularly manipulate stories to go viral, regardless of whether or not they’re true. It also ignores the fact that many far-right posters and trolls don’t care whether the information they’re pushing is true, so long as their online voice is amplified.
Over the last year, Twitter has taken significant steps to crack-down on a number of far-right accounts, but has also issued grovelling apologies to conservatives over minor glitches. The most notable of these is when a Twitter moment called right-wing commentator Candance Owens — who was previously a guest on Jones’ Infowars — a “far-right media personality.” After Owens’ outrage, Dorsey personally apologized to her.
Hi Candace. I want to apologize for our labeling you “far right.” Team completed a full review of how this was published and why we corrected far too late (12 hrs after). There was a clear break in our curation process and understanding, and we’re fixing. Thanks for calling out.
— jack (@jack) April 27, 2018
Twitter’s back-and-forth policy on banning far-right accounts echoes a wider problem within Big Tech in that there is not a consistent set of guidelines for banning problematic content from sites like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.
While each one of these platforms maintains their own hate speech policies, Jones’ popularity, and the fact that he often skirts around them issuing direct incitements to violence, means that he presents a difficult subject for one platform to take the first step in banning outright. As BuzzFeed News reported on Monday, it was only after Spotify took the first step of banning Jones’ podcasts that Apple, Facebook, and then YouTube soon followed suit.
Jones is also currently in the middle of a lawsuit from the families of nine victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, who say that Jones’ lies about the school shooting have led to them being constantly harassed and forced them into hiding. Jones is seeking to have the case dismissed.