How to prevent conspiracy theorists from destroying people’s lives
In 24 hours between August 5th and 6th 2018, Apple, Facebook, YouTube, and just about every major platform finally banned Alex Jones from their platforms.
Of course, this was a long time coming. Jones gained notoriety for calling the Sandy Hook Massacre fake, saying that Obama was not born in the USA, and that Democrats ran a secret child sex-trafficking ring out of pizza shops (amongst other things).
While his removal will definitely make these platforms a less hostile place, the means of his removal exposed a dangerous flaw in the methods of online platforms — They didn’t remove him based on specific violations of their rules, but rather due to collective pressure from seeing other platforms ban him.
These platforms need more rigorous and transparent standards they adhere to, and prevent situations where they need to wait for public pressure to ban people clearly violating rules.
The Power Of Online Platforms
As the internet becomes increasingly ubiquitous, the issue of what should get censored online is becoming increasingly prevalent.
Platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow millions of people to watch and share information. It follows that if any of this information is false or hate speech, a lot of people will hear them, and a lot of people will be swayed by them.
The potential for harm can be seen with one of Alex Jones’ conspiracy theories — Mr. Pozner and Ms. De La Rosa, parents of a child killed during the Sandy Hook Massacre, received death threats after Jones posted a video titled “Sandy Hook Vampires Exposed”, which implied Ms. De La Rosa was an actor.
When people use their influence on such platforms to cause the harassment of individuals, they should undoubtedly be banned. The only question is, why didn’t Apple, Youtube, Facebook or Spotify ban him any sooner?
A Pressured Response
In July, when Facebook’s head of newsfeed John Hegeman was asked about why InfoWars — Alex Jones’ network, hadn’t been banned yet, he said that “ just for being false”, the network doesn’t “violate the community standards,” and that InfoWars had “not violated something that would result in them being taken down”.
This was even though Mr. Pozner and Ms. De La Rosa had to move seven times in the past five years to escape harassment from Sandy Hook “truthers.”
After pressure from the public, Facebook eventually only temporarily suspended the InfoWars page, with Youtube and Spotify following a similar method of removing content but never taking strong action against InfoWars.
However, podcast platform Stitcher was much more definitive in their stance. After an angry tweet by a user they immediately took action —
Soon after Apple removed InfoWars from its podcasts. Surprisingly, Facebook then did a complete reversal of their previous statements and published a statement explaining how they received more information about content they found which —
“violates our graphic violence policy, and using dehumanizing language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims and immigrants, which violates our hate speech policies”
Soon to follow was Youtube, as well as Spotify, Linkedin, Vimeo and Pinterest.