With all the chatter surrounding the dismissal of Infowars host Alex Jones from a variety of social media platforms, one exception hasn’t received quite as much attention. The Twitter accounts for both Jones personally and his Infowars show are still active. I’ll confess that I didn’t even realize this yesterday, assuming that if he wasn’t shut down yet he would be shortly. But that’s not the case. Twitter founder Jack Dorsey (simply known as @Jack in your timeline) hasn’t instructed his minions to pull the plug on Jones yet and, at least as of last night, he still has no plans to. But his statement on the subject leaves more than a few questions and is drawing some well deserved guffaws. (CNN)
“We didn’t suspend Alex Jones or Infowars yesterday,” Dorsey tweeted Tuesday. “We know that’s hard for many but the reason is simple: he hasn’t violated our rules. We’ll enforce if he does. And we’ll continue to promote a healthy conversational environment by ensuring tweets aren’t artificially amplified.”
Twitter (TWTR) was notably absent from a list of big tech companies that cut some ties with Jones and his InfoWars site this week. Apple (AAPL), Facebook (FB) and Google’s (GOOGL) YouTube removed content associated with Jones and InfoWars for violating their policies…
“If we succumb and simply react to outside pressure, rather than straightforward principles we enforce (and evolve) impartially regardless of political viewpoints, we become a service that’s constructed by our personal views that can swing in any direction,” he said. “That’s not us.”
Just yesterday I went into quite a few details as to why I find this entire self-policing process unsatisfactory, with no obvious solution on the horizon. I won’t go through that all again, but I did want to bring up how it specifically applies to this situation with Twitter and Jack Dorsey’s policies.
Saying that Jones hasn’t violated Twitter’s policies leaves us yet again wondering what precisely those policies are. Oh, sure… they have them written down for everyone to read. But they contain a lot of vague language which is left to Twitter’s descretion as to when and how they will enforce it. I hate to keep bringing up the same example, but do you happen to recall what Kat McKinley was suspended for? She explains it here. In one tweet – which was over a year old – she expressed an opinion about transgender troop policies and the medical nature of gender dysphoria. (Without hurling insults, threats or anything else.) In the other, she spoke out against honor killings in Muslim communities.
For those “crimes” her account was suspended and she was instructed to delete the tweets. Have you seen the Infowars Twitter feed? These days it’s almost entirely focused on Jones being banned and the surging success of their phone apps, of course, but you only have to scroll back a few weeks to find a lot of their typical fare. If Kat McKinley was guilty of a suspension-level offense but nothing in Jones’ feed rises to that level, there’s some sort of disconnect in the Twitter oversight department.
Yet again, I’m not saying that I neccessarily want Jones to be banned. But users deserve some sort of rhyme or reason when presented with the rules of engagement. And since I have no interest in having the government step in and regulate social media behavior (beyond investigating actual violations of the law, threats of violence, etc.), there aren’t a lot of other options. It would be lovely to say that if Twitter abuses conservatives badly enough then another service will simply rise up and replace them according to the laws of the free market. But Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have clearly reached some sort of critical mass where they would be nearly impossible to supplant.
Dorsey is claiming that Twitter has “straightforward principles we enforce (and evolve) impartially regardless of political viewpoints.” That’s simply laughable. But at least for now, he can keep saying things like that with a straight face and remain accountable to no one. If any of you have a workable suggestion to address this situation I’m all ears, but for, now I will just be pushing to keep the pressure on these platforms to abandon their pretenses and simply allow everyone to post what they wish. If somebody is using these platforms to break the law, report them to law enforcement, not Twitter @support. And short of that, the user community can hold the authors accountable and keep the platform provider out of it.