Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told The New Yorker that Apple’s decision to remove controversial conspiracy theorist Alex Jones from its App Store and Podcasts spurred Facebook to also remove Jones from the social platform.
In July, complaints over Facebook’s action, or rather inaction, regarding Jones and his Infowars pages began to escalate. Users said the controversial talk show host’s rants and ravings — among other claims, Jones is known for calling the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school massacre a hoax — routinely violated Facebook’s policies on harassment and fake news.
Facebook at first attempted to reduce the impact of Jones’ postings on the social network by “reducing” him, which involved modifications to Facebook’s article suggestion algorithms. In the face of pressure from Facebook users, including the parents of a Sandy Hook victim, the service pulled four of Jones’ videos, and suspended him from posting for a month-long period.
However, Jones was not completely removed from Facebook until Apple removed five of six podcasts from Jones’ Infowars network. Facebook then followed Apple’s lead by shutting down four pages published by Jones for policy violations.
Facebook shut down four of Jones’s pages for “repeatedly” violating rules against hate speech and bullying. I asked Zuckerberg why Facebook had wavered in its handling of the situation. He was prickly about the suggestion: “I don’t believe that it is the right thing to ban a person for saying something that is factually incorrect.”
Jones seemed a lot more than factually incorrect, I said.
“O.K., but I think the facts here are pretty clear,” he said, homing in. “The initial questions were around misinformation.” He added, “We don’t take it down and ban people unless it’s directly inciting violence.” He told me that, after Jones was reduced, more complaints about him flooded in, alerting Facebook to older posts, and that the company was debating what to do when Apple announced its ban. Zuckerberg said, “When they moved, it was, like, O.K., we shouldn’t just be sitting on this content and these enforcement decisions. We should move on what we know violates the policy. We need to make a decision now.”
Apple CEO Tim Cook and Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue reportedly made the decision to ban Jones after a weekend meeting in August. The duo at first allowed the Infowars app to remain in the App Store, saying the app hadn’t violated App Store guidelines. However, the app was removed last week for “content that is offensive, insensitive, upsetting, intended to disgust, or in exceptionally poor taste.”
Jones has since been banned from Facebook, YouTube, Spotify and Twitter.