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Why Facebook banned Alex Jones, and Twitter didn't

On one hand, we spent maybe too much time this week on the question of whether one person should lose
August 10 · Issue #184 · View online
The Interface
On one hand, we spent maybe too much time this week on the question of whether one person should lose access to his social media accounts. On the other hand, it’s a question that illuminates some of the central tensions that led me to start this newsletter. How can social media be used to do harm? Can tech companies effectively rein in their worst users? Also, what the hell is Twitter’s deal?
Will Oremus tries to answer the latter question today with some reporting on what people inside Twitter are saying about Alex Jones. He offers a handful of theories on the company’s paralyzed, contradictory stances on Infowars. First, there’s Twitter’s bias toward inaction on almost all things; second, there’s its terror of being called partisan by conservatives or by Congress. There’s also the possibility that Twitter will ban Jones, and is still finalizing its public case for doing so.
Finally, Oremus concludes, is the possibility that there’s currently a big internal fight about Jones that hasn’t been resolved yet. This is my own theory, and here’s a smidge of evidence that it’s true. Yesterday I asked the company for comment on Oliver Darcy’s damning report showing that, contrary to Twitter’s public statements, Jones had repeatedly violated the Twitter rules. The company told me a statement was coming, then never delivered. That’s the sort of thing that happens when a company is still trying to figure out its own position.
Meanwhile in The New York Times, Kevin Roose has more detail on how Mark Zuckerberg made the decision to ban Jones from Facebook.
Mr. Zuckerberg, an engineer by training and temperament, has always preferred narrow process decisions to broad, subjective judgments. His evaluation of Infowars took the form of a series of technical policy questions. They included whether the mass-reporting of Infowars posts constituted coordinated “brigading,” a tactic common in online harassment campaigns. Executives also debated whether Mr. Jones should receive a “strike” for each post containing hate speech (which would lead to removing his pages as well as the individual posts) or a single, collective strike (which would remove the posts, but leave his pages up).
Late Sunday, Apple — which has often tried to stake out moral high ground on contentious debates — removed Infowars podcasts from iTunes. After seeing the news, Mr. Zuckerberg sent a note to his team confirming his own decision: the strikes against Infowars and Mr. Jones would count individually, and the pages would come down. The announcement arrived at 3 a.m. Pacific time.
Much attention has focused on how Facebook moved forward with a ban only after Apple did the same thing. To me, the preceding paragraph is just as noteworthy: it shows the company was already building its case for doing so when it kicked him off the platform. That speaks to something I said Tuesday: that the platforms all seemed to be moving independently to the same conclusion, reinforcing one another’s decisions along the way.
It made me think of a point Charlie Warzel made earlier this month:
A few months ago, during the rapid fallout of Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, a smart person mentioned to me the first rule of crisis PR. The idea is to quickly figure out what the ultimate end game of a disaster will be, and then cut all the bullshit and just jump straight to doing whatever uncomfortable thing you’ll inevitably have to do under duress days, weeks, or months later. I’ve been thinking a lot about that maxim the past two weeks as the platforms make declarations about Infowars as a legitimate publisher, followed by some hedging, then a bit of backtracking, some light finger-wagging, a short timeout, and finally an ominous suggestion that the publisher is on thin ice. All the statements, interviews, and bad press seems to be careening toward a particular outcome for Facebook, YouTube, and Infowars, and it seems as if everyone but the platforms knows it.
Facebook and YouTube have now careened all the way to that “particular outcome” — banning Jones — while Twitter is still contemplating the end game. I suspect the company will arrive at the same place its peers did eventually. The only question is how much self-inflicted damage it will sustain in the meantime.

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Joshua Benton’s Twitter thread on how the Gizmodo story backfired says it all better than I can:
Joshua Benton
While I think the problems with the Gizmodo Facebook Trending story went well beyond the headline, good to see even this limited mea culpa
8:06 AM - 10 Aug 2018
The most engaged publishers on Facebook in July 2018
Facebook, still on a mission to bring people online, announces Connectivity
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Facebook's David Marcus Steps Down From Coinbase's Board
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Twitter is wrong about Alex Jones: facts are not enough to combat conspiracy theories
Platforms, Speech And Truth: Policy, Policing And Impossible Choices
Bots vs. Trolls: How AI Could Clean Up Social Media
How journalists should not cover an online conspiracy theory
To Auto-Archive Or To Not Auto-Archive, Twitter Edition
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