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Twitter's case for keeping Alex Jones falls apart

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On Tuesday, weighing in on the public pressure to ban Alex Jones and Infowars from Twitter, CEO Jack
 
August 9 · Issue #183 · View online
The Interface
On Tuesday, weighing in on the public pressure to ban Alex Jones and Infowars from Twitter, CEO Jack Dorsey called on journalists for help. “Accounts like Jones’ can often sensationalize issues and spread unsubstantiated rumors,” Dorsey tweeted, “so it’s critical journalists document, validate, and refute such information directly so people can form their own opinions. This is what serves the public conversation best.”
Journalists complained loudly about being asked to perform unpaid content moderation on Twitter’s behalf. But in the spirit of serving the public conversation, CNN’s Oliver Darcy decided to document some of those unsubstantiated rumors of Alex Jones’. Taking a tour of Jones’ Twitter history, he found 20 attacks on the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting, on the survivors of the Parkland shooting, on gay people, on Muslims, and on CNN’s Brian Stelter, whom he called, among other things, the “literal demon spawn of the pit of Hell,” a “smiling leering Devil,” and a “degenerate sack of anti-human trash.”
Yesterday, in a memo to employees that she eventually made public, Twitter’s head of safety, Del Harvey, acknowledged that Jones had sinned in the past. “If he were to post similar accusations today, we would take action on them,” she wrote. “If people report past content of his that includes those types of accusations, we would require him to remove it but would not further penalize him as we work to avoid retroactive applications of our policy.”
Harvey wrote that “our rules have evolved over time,” suggesting that Jones’ conduct was once acceptable on Twitter, but no longer. And yet as Harvey’s blog post this week laid out, targeted harassment of the kind Jones inflicted on Parkland survivors has been banned since 2013. Many of the tweets and videos that Darcy found — in some cases identical to the ones that led him to be banned on Facebook and YouTube, among other platforms — were posted within the past few months.
Yesterday, Dorsey won Sean Hannity’s praise for the company’s paralysis. “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,” Dorsey had said, by way of explanation.
But a company cannot make a principled stand against outside pressure while ignoring the standards it set for the rest of its user base. As Darcy’s story makes clear, Jones repeatedly violated multiple Twitter rules for years, as recently as the past month, and the company declined to enforce them. In practice Twitter’s enforcement apparatus is, to borrow Dorsey’s words, “a service constructed by personal views that can swing in any direction.” With Jones, it has acted as capriciously as its least charitable critics accuse it of being.
Policing online behavior is often difficult. But not in this case. “He hasn’t violated our rules,” Dorsey said Tuesday of Jones. It was an argument that couldn’t withstand a single Twitter search.

Democracy
Hard Questions: Where Do We Draw The Line on Free Expression?
Facebook To Ban 3D Printed Gun Files From Its Platforms
Microsoft threatened to drop hosting for Gab over hate speech posts
What's the matter with Twitter?
More than 40,000 Facebook users expressed interest in political protests with potential Russian ties
Viral Political Ads May Not Be As Persuasive As You Think
Bill Nelson: The Russians have penetrated some Florida voter registration systems
Elsewhere
'People You May Know:' A Controversial Facebook Feature's 10-Year History
If you message first in online dating, you might be punching above your weight
Emoji couples might come in 55 gender and skin tone combinations next year
Launches
Facebook launches Mentorships, matching people within Groups to help them guide each other
Anchor now lets podcasters receive Patreon-style pledges from listeners
Discord will start selling games
Google launches Cameos, a video Q&A app aimed at celebs and public figures
Takes
Rules Won’t Save Twitter. Values Will.
Big Tech Banned Jones This Week But Learned Very Little
Combating Hate and White Nationalism in the Digital World
Digital Detox: Big Tech’s Phony Crisis of Conscience
And finally ...
Blowing Up My Plans to Write a Blog Post on My Analysis of Instagram TV
Talk to me
Send me tips, questions, comments, Gab accounts to follow: casey@theverge.com
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