Twitter permanently banned right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his Infowars show for abusive behavior, a day after CEO Jack Dorsey testified before Congress about alleged bias against conservatives on the platform.
The company said Jones won’t be able to create new accounts on Twitter or take over any existing ones. In a tweet, it said it would continue to monitor reports about other accounts potentially associated with Jones or Infowars, and will “take action” if it finds any attempts to circumvent the ban.
Twitter said Jones posted a video on Wednesday that violates the company’s policy against “abusive behavior.” That video showed Jones berating CNN journalist Oliver Darcy for some 10 minutes in between two congressional hearings on social media. Dorsey testified at both hearings, but did not appear to witness the confrontation.
Jones had about 900,000 followers on Twitter. Infowars had about 430,000. Jones did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
New Jersey Democratic Rep. Frank Pallone praised Twitter’s action in a tweet. “Glad Twitter is taking steps to put an end to the abusive behavior from Alex Jones & Infowars,” the tweet stated. “Tweets designed to threaten, belittle, demean and silence individuals have no place on this platform.”
Glad Twitter is taking steps to put an end to the abusive behavior from Alex Jones & Infowars. Tweets designed to threaten, belittle, demean and silence individuals have no place on this platform. https://t.co/OZxGF8XrR1
— Rep. Frank Pallone (@FrankPallone) September 6, 2018
— occupycorruptDC (@occupycorruptDC) September 7, 2018
— overpasses4America (@o4america) September 7, 2018
— overpasses4America (@o4america) September 7, 2018
Twitter had previously suspended Jones for a week. But until now it had resisted muzzling Jones further. Other tech companies have limited Jones by suspending him for longer periods, as Facebook did, and by taking down his pages and radio stations.
Jones heckled Darcy in a Capitol Hill hallway where reporters were waiting to enter the House committee room. He criticized the journalist’s reporting and appearance, referencing his “skinny jeans” and repeatedly saying, “just look at this guy’s eyes” and “look at that smile.”
At one point, he said Darcy was “smiling like a possum that crawled out of the rear end of a dead cow. That’s what you look like. You look like a possum that got caught doing some really nasty stuff — in my view. You’re a public figure too.”
Darcy has aggressively questioned social media companies about the forbearance they showed Jones, asking why they have allowed him to remain on their platforms for as long as they have.
Jones is currently active on Facebook; his personal suspension there recently expired. Apple, YouTube and Spotify also permanently removed material Jones had published. Facebook did not immediately respond to a message asking whether it would also ban Jones.
Dorsey originally defended his company’s decision not to ban Jones, tweeting that Jones “hasn’t violated our rules” but if he does “we’ll enforce.”
“We’re going to hold Jones to the same standard we hold to every account, not taking one-off actions to make us feel good in the short term, and adding fuel to new conspiracy theories,” Dorsey tweeted on Aug. 7 , after the other companies took action against Jones.
But a week later Twitter joined the other tech companies in muzzling Jones, even if it was only for a week. It was a significant move for a company one of its executives once called the “free speech wing of the free speech party.”
But critics warn there is another side to high-profile cases such as this one.
“We should be extremely careful before rushing to embrace an internet that is moderated by private companies by default,” said David Greene, civil liberties director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation in an email last month.
While high-profile cases of highly offensive content being taken down gets a lot of attention, he added, content moderation “continues to silence” the voices of people around the world struggling to be heard.
Twitter chose a precarious time to ban such a high-profile user of their social media, because Attorney General Jeff Sessions has scheduled a meeting with state attorneys general in September to discuss a “growing concern” that tech companies may be “intentionally stifling” the free flow of ideas on their platforms.
In a statement issued right after executives from Facebook and Twitter finished testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Department of Justice (DOJ) also suggested that the platforms were running afoul of antitrust laws, reports The Hill.
“The Attorney General has convened a meeting with a number of state attorneys general this month to discuss a growing concern that these companies may be hurting competition and intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms,” DOJ spokesman Devin O’Malley said in a statement issued near the end of the congressional hearing.
President Trump and conservative House Republicans have repeatedly aired complaints about bias against conservatives on Facebook, Twitter, Google and other social media platforms. Those companies though have denied censoring conservative speech.
Have any doubts about censorship & bias on social media? View these two examples of Facebook bias below.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday morning on efforts to combat foreign influence operations on their platforms.
Dorsey will face a second grilling later Wednesday from lawmakers in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where he is expected to face questions on the allegations of conservative censorship.
The DOJ’s move is the first sign of the administration taking concrete action to address alleged bias following President Trump’s public accusations against tech companies last week. It also comes at a time of tension between the president and his top law enforcement officer. Trump has repeatedly chastised Sessions over his decision to recuse himself from the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, faulting the attorney general in August for not taking control of what he sees as “corruption” at the Justice Department. And on Monday, Trump blasted Sessions on Twitter over recent indictments against two Republican congressmen.
The announcement also signals that the Justice Department is paying attention to the growing movement to challenge Facebook’s and Google’s market power.
Trump said the companies might have antitrust problems but declined to discuss whether they should be broken up.
Google has been dogged by massive antitrust fines in Europe, where regulators have accused the company of using its dominance in internet search, mobile operating systems and online advertising to suppress competition.
Facebook is also facing antitrust scrutiny in the EU.
But the U.S. has yet to take any action against the internet giants over their market power.
Spokespeople for Google, Facebook and Twitter did not immediately respond when asked for comment.
James E Windsor, Overpasses News Desk
September 7th, 2018