Conspiracy theorist, Infowars founder, and all-around grifting kingpin Alex Jones has had a rough week: Following Apple’s decision to boot most of his podcasts from their directories, he’s been kicked off of YouTube, Facebook, and Spotify. That means he and his various media ventures have been mostly booted from all major platforms, barring little-used social network Google+ and Twitter.
Well, leave it to Twitter and its CEO Jack Dorsey to hold the line. On Tuesday, Dorsey came out with a full-throated defense of Twitter’s decision not to ban Jones. In a string of tweets, Dorsey essentially proposed that Jones needs to remain on the platform so that everyone else can rebut him.
In a four-tweet thread, Dorsey admitted that the social network has “been terrible at explaining our decisions in the past,” then proceeded to explain the decision to retain Jones on the site in just that kind of manner. Dorsey said that Jones was not violating Twitter’s terms of service and implied that other platforms were haphazardly “adding fuel to new conspiracy theories” in response to “outside pressure.”
Then Dorsey tweeted that because Jones can use his Twitter account to “sensationalize issues and spread unsubstantiated rumors,” that makes it all the more “critical journalists document, validate, and refute such information directly so people can form their own opinions.” He also linked to a document titled “The Twitter Rules: A Living Document.”
As explanations go, this is just as terrible as all the other explanations Twitter has put forth the previous times it’s fumbled things like verifying neo-Nazis or tweaking search results to lower search rankings of hostile users.
The document that Dorsey linked to explicitly notes “targeted harassment,” “abusive behavior,” and other hateful conduct are violations of the Twitter terms of service. There’s rife evidence of Jones participating in that kind of conduct—the same stuff that got him booted from other platforms—on Twitter. For example, take this tweet from February in which Jones linked to an article insinuating Parkland shooting survivor David Hogg was “walked through rehearsed lines” on media appearances:
He’s also promoted Pizzagate, a conspiracy theory that was essentially a campaign of sustained harassment against a DC restaurant he falsely alleged let a pedophile ring operate out of its basement:
As far as hate speech goes, Jones has tweeted out links to videos in which he posited that Klansmen are really “leftist Jews” in disguise. Jones has also deleted tweets that could get him in trouble in the past, like one calling TV star Oprah Winfrey an “absolute anti-human, Nazi troll.” This is just the tip of the iceberg.
Taken individually these tweets might not merit a ban, but taken together they clearly constitute a pattern of hostile behavior. If that doesn’t constitute a violation of the Twitter TOS in Dorsey’s eyes, that says a lot about the company’s history of long and well-documented history of arbitrarily enforcing rules to the benefit of trolls—exactly the thing it’s come under repeated criticism for, and the thing Dorsey is supposedly standing against by refusing to remove Jones.
Then the idea that Jones should be able to remain on the platform specifically so that others can counter him is pure gobbledygook. For one, it explicitly acknowledges that his 850,000+ follower count gives him broad power to spread conspiracy theories and other hateful content. Then it suggests that providing this platform is somehow serving some mythical discourse, because it creates opportunities for others to rebut him.
This is somewhat akin to arguing that being infected with a virulent disease is good, actually, because it provides opportunities for doctors to fight the infection. It’s circular logic. The fact that a conversation is occurring does not magically make it worth having. (The idea that social media needs to give massive platforms to bad-faith actors also plays weirdly into Infowars’ tagline of “There’s a war on for your mind.”) Finally, the idea that banning Jones would simply fuel new conspiracies fundamentally misunderstands why conspiracism is such a big deal right now: The people promoting and profiting off of them have broad access to massive digital platforms that thrive on sensationalism.
Just last month, Twitter was reportedly working on proposals to “serve the public conversation,” namely by developing tools to distinguish between mere incivility and intolerant discourse that is “inherently threatening to democracy.” What’s more like Twitter than taking one step forward and two steps back? By the way, Jones’ profile still has that blue Verified checkmark.