Social media: Alex Jones wears out his last welcome
Twitter has finally put a limit on hate mongering, said Taylor Lorenz in The Atlantic. Last week the platform banned Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist best known for claiming that the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax staged by the government and gun-control activists. The ejection comes after years of “inaction and half-measures”—and, not coincidentally, one day after congressional hearings attended by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. His company has banned some controversial figures, including former Trump adviser Roger Stone, and has sanctioned Jones before. But it has long considered itself “the free speech wing of the free speech party” and resisted calls for a comprehensive ban on Jones and his digital network, Infowars—until now. Apple, the other outlier among tech companies, has joined Twitter and pulled Jones’ Infowars app from its store.
Jones has claimed that bans just make him stronger, but Twitter’s blackballing will hurt, said Elizabeth Williamson and Emily Steel in The New York Times. Jones’ multiplatform Infowars channel, his forum for “flimsy fact, grievance, paranoia, ideology, combativeness, and solipsism,” is also a lucrative business. According to records from his divorce battle, it netted him $5 million in 2014—enough to pay for a Rolex watch shopping spree, a $40,000 saltwater aquarium, and a $70,000 grand piano. The money comes from survivalist products and health supplements such as Super Male Vitality and Brain Force Plus that he hawks on the air; losing platforms to promote his advertisers will deliver a significant financial hit. Jones also faces expensive defamation suits from families of victims in the Sandy Hook massacre, the Connecticut shooting that took 26 lives, including 20 first-grade children. After two decades conjuring “angry nativist rants and end-of-days fear mongering,” Jones now meets a “legal, public opinion, and social media reckoning.”
The Alex Jones ban could irk some conservatives who “claim tech platforms single out right-leaning accounts for punishment,” said Cristiano Lima in Politico.com. But it likely won’t be very many, because it’s not just Twitter that Jones managed to alienate. Republicans were willing to defend Jones until they actually met him, said Will Oremus in Slate.com. Then, at last week’s congressional hearings on social media, Jones tried to shoulder his way into Sen. Marco Rubio’s press gaggle. Jones repeatedly insulted the Florida Republican, who finally gave up and told reporters to deal with “this clown.” At the same hearings, the anti-Muslim activist Laura Loomer loudly disrupted the proceedings to protest her treatment by tech companies. It was a perfect illustration of the central problem of social media: Bad actors claiming to exercise their free-speech rights quash the chance of a genuine civil debate. Now the GOP has seen it happen in their own house. ■