When Facebook removed the official page of Alex Jones, the Infowars host and king of conspiracy theories, it violated a value the social-media company called “fundamental” less than one month ago — and it perfectly illustrates how the tech titan has no backbone or moral leadership.
“We believe banning these Pages would be contrary to the basic principles of free speech,” Facebook said when asked by CNN's Oliver Darcy why Infowars still had a presence on the site after Facebook had said it would clamp down on intentionally false news in mid-July.
“I think part of the fundamental thing here is that we created Facebook to be a place where different people can have a voice,” John Hegeman, the head of Facebook's News Feed, told Darcy at the time. “And different publishers have very different points of view.”
In removing Jones on Monday, Facebook apparently betrayed its “fundamental” belief that “different people can have a voice” that express “very different points of view.” It was, by Facebook's own admission, “contrary to the basic principles of free speech.”
“We have taken it down for glorifying violence, 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,” Facebook said on Monday.
BuzzFeed's senior technology writer, Charlie Warzel, similar suggested those inside Facebook — and other companies, like YouTube, that made similar moves — had abandoned or at least contradicted their stated principles:
“Last 6 months I've had dozens of convos w/ ppl at YT & FB. most have taken principled stands about why this channel had to remain up. They suggested those pressuring to remove the page didn't understand nuances of moderation. Funny how that all evaporated after Apple took action! … feels like a legit credibility issue for the platforms w/ many of the journalists who cover them. … The decision to flip the policy completely would seem to cast doubt on all the past explanations of why Jones was allowed to stay up for so long.”
In 2012, Jones suggested that the parents of the 20 6- and 7-year-old children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut were paid “crisis actors” and that no such shooting took place. When 17 high schoolers died in a shooting in Parkland, Florida, Jones again suggested the survivors were actors.
Jones pushed the “Pizzagate” conspiracy that eventually saw a gunman show up at a Washington, DC, pizza restaurant , demanding to investigate it as a possible sex-trafficking hub for children with links to Hillary Clinton, whom Jones has called a demon.
Jones frequently accuses Muslims of trying to take over Western countries and subvert their laws, notably saying Muslims demanded England's Queen Elizabeth convert or leave her ancestral home .
Perhaps at Facebook, one of the world's biggest corporations, ad sales and public relations take precedent over any moral principles.
Did Facebook remove Jones because he glorified violence or used dehumanizing language against Muslims or transgender people? There's ample evidence to say Jones had done that on Facebook for years.
Did Facebook worry about dehumanizing when it spread anti-Muslim hate speech in Myanmar during an active ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine?
In defending Jones, Facebook claimed to have some backbone and some stomach for bad press when its principles were in play. But when Apple pulled out, and Facebook alone had to stand for up for free speech, Facebook didn't lead.
Instead, it followed the cue from its fellow tech giants, and that spine was nowhere to be found.