Jones is having a rough week. The Texas-based
conspiracy theorist and head of the
disturbingly popular Infowars media empire has been banned in rapid
succession from a variety of platforms, including
Apple, YouTube, Facebook and Spotify.
many casual news consumers, the purge seems sudden. Jones has been
peddling mean-spirited hoaxes for years, including 9/11 "truther"
accusations of pedophilia aimed at a broad set of targets (including
special counsel Robert Mueller), and hyping the idea that the bereaved
parents of kids killed in the Sandy Hook massacre are fakers — the latter
of which has led to a defamation lawsuit that
could cost the Infowars host millions of dollars. So why now?
timing isn't random. In recent weeks, a group of progressive
activists has dialed up efforts to pressure these distribution platforms
to drop Infowars. That pressure, which comes at a time when court
proceedings against Jones have finally begun in earnest, created the
momentum that led to this decision. This has been mentioned in passing
in much of the coverage, but these folks deserve much more credit and
recognition for the work they've been doing in trying to fight
right-wing disinformation campaigns.
spoke recently with Jared Holt, a researcher from Right
Wing Watch, a project of People for the American Way. Holt's work
has been instrumental in getting social media and other internet
platforms to give Infowars the boot. This interview has been edited and
condensed for clarity.
follow you on Twitter and noticed that you seemed to be spearheading
the effort to kick Alex Jones off Spotify. Am I right in this
first brought attention to the fact that Spotify was hosting
Infowars’ programming and tweeted
about it. That was amplified by the progressive group Sleeping
Giants, which brought it into the national attention, from my
relatively niche Twitter account. People were upset and threatened to
boycott Spotify. That got the attention of reporters who asked Spotify
about it. Then I
also wrote an article laying out the case for
why Infowars clearly violates Spotify’s own hosting rules.
did you decide to target Spotify? Alex Jones is being distributed all
over, as we've come to realize.
not sure it was really a calculated effort. I use Spotify to listen to
music while I work. I noticed they had a podcast section, so I was
looking through that. When I found Infowars, I was surprised -- mostly
because of my own experience as someone who
has a podcast, aside from my work with Right Wing Watch. I
experienced a personal struggle to get Spotify to list my own
guess I was a little bit offended that Alex Jones was able to get on the
air and I wasn’t.
respond to your complaints directly?
I reached out to Spotify for comments on my original stories about the
ways that Infowars violates the terms of service. Although I was the
first person, to my knowledge, to ask them about this, they never
responded to me.
seems like there was a snowball effect that took place after this
happened. Jones got booted one outlet and then the rest followed,
stampede-style. Why was this the tipping point?
a long time, people have been frustrated, particularly with Facebook and
YouTube hosting Infowars. Those sites nearly broke their backs to
come up with reasons why Infowars should be exempt from the same user
policy enacted on everybody else that uses the platform.
adding Spotify and Apple to this discussion underlined exactly
how legitimate the concerns of the people who were upset by this were.
do you think Facebook resisted kicking Jones off for so long?
be just totally blunt, I think Facebook was afraid to take action.
since the internet began, there’s been the existential question
over how much responsibility platforms have for the content that its
users generate. The internet started as a radical experiment
in free speech, and I think early on, we saw the benefits of
that more clearly. I’m thinking back to events like the Arab Spring
and that sort of stuff, to see what a free and open internet could do
for democracy at large and on the world stage.
over the past couple of years, we’ve experienced the negative
effects. We were spoiled by the good before we saw the ugly. I think
because of that, there is sort of a fear -- not just at Facebook,
but with other tech companies as well -- that restricting pages
also would be subject to backlash from millions of people who keep up
with Infowars and support Infowars.
at Right Wing Watch and People for the American Way by tracking
right-wing misinformation sites. Why is it so important to go
after these guys? What danger do they present to the public?
in the name of Infowars. It’s not an attempt at legitimate
reporting. It's a, quote, "war" for your mind.
their war for the American mind is to stuff it full of
conspiracy theories. That ultimately debases people from reality and
polarizes them to the extremes of right-wing politics.
Historically, we’ve seen that can be very harmful for the vision of
America as a free and open democracy.
think it’s important to realize that people like Alex Jones are using
these platforms in bad faith.
Zuckerberg gave an
interview recently that went viral because he
brought up Holocaust denial and suggested that one problem with
kicking out conspiracy theorists is that while they're wrong, they're
arguing in good faith and believe the things they say.
been following Infowars for a long time and researching them. So I
guess I want to ask you bluntly: Do you think Alex Jones is just
pretending to believe this crap, or does he really believe it?
think Alex Jones is probably caught in his own feedback loop at this
point. I think he believes in the classic right-wing conspiracy theory,
this idea that "globalists" are working to subvert Western culture.
the audience and the reward system he’s built for himself at Infowars
throughout the years, he has an incentive, resulting directly to
his pocketbook, to give his audience the red meat.
think I can’t peer into Alex Jones’ brain and tell you 100 percent
whether or not he believes in all of this. But he definitely has a
financial reward system, and I guess an audience, that provides
motivation for him behaving the way he does on air.
talk show host Joe Walsh tells Salon: Donald Trump "betrayed his
role do you think the Sandy Hook lawsuit plays in all
this? Do you think that now that lawyers are involved, that might
change the equations for the social media networks, Spotify, and other
lawsuits have been ongoing against Alex Jones for a while, and
these social networks didn’t seem to really care. I do imagine that the
fact Alex Jones is being sued in court for things he said and
transmitted through their platforms adds to the outrage that users and
activists are feeling.
does it feel, after all this work you’ve been doing, to finally
see Spotify, Facebook, YouTube, all these places, finally turn on
what I want to see is something that we haven’t really witnessed from
these social media giants, which is consistent and clear enforcement of
their own guidelines.
and YouTube had a lot to say after the election about these efforts that
they were supposedly going to make to counter fake news and
misinformation on their platforms. But they ignored Infowars, which is
one of the most pronounced symptoms of the problem.
reassuring to see them finally take action. I think it’s a little
unfortunate that it took a public outrage campaign to do it, but
ultimately I think it’s a step in the right direction. I hope these
platforms realize that the problem is bigger than Infowars and that
users are counting on them to follow through with the promises they made
to counter this kind of misinformation.