The decision by Apple to remove the Infowars podcasts from its offerings comes after months of discussion amongst tech companies on how best to mediate content being posted to their sites. Following extensive reports that foreign entities have been using social media sites to spread misinformation and create political discord in America, the sites have been creating policies to crackdown on "fake news" posts.
They have been slower, however, to police what many users see as hate speech. As recently as mid-July, Buzzfeed reported that Facebook was hesitant to take down Infowars' content. Asked about Infowars' proliferation of conspiracy theories, Buzzfeed reported that Facebook News Feed specialist Sara Su replied only that the page, "can be really problematic and it bugs me, too."
The decision to remove the content then showed a shift in policy for the companies.
In a statement Sunday evening to BuzzFeed News, Apple confirmed that it notified Jones of the decision to remove the five shows under its hate speech guidelines earlier this weekend. "Apple does not tolerate hate speech, and we have clear guidelines that creators and developers must follow to ensure we provide a safe environment for all of our users," a company spokesperson said. "Podcasts that violate these guidelines are removed from our directory making them no longer searchable or available for download or streaming. We believe in representing a wide range of views, so long as people are respectful to those with differing opinions.”
Spotify claimed similar reasons for removing Jones' content, per Buzzfeed:
A Spotify spokesperson confirmed on Monday morning that the company has removed all episodes of The Alex Jones Show, after it removed some selected episodes last week. Spotify's hate content policy prohibits anything that "expressly and principally promotes, advocates, or incites hatred or violence against a group or individual based on characteristics." The policy warns that repeat offenders will be removed from the platform.
CNN reported in July that Facebook's head of News Feed, John Hegeman, defended the decision to continue hosting content from Infowars.
"I guess just for being false that doesn't violate the community standards," Hegeman said, explaining that InfoWars has "not violated something that would result in them being taken down." Hegeman added, "I think part of the fundamental thing here is that we created Facebook to be a place where different people can have a voice. And different publishers have very different points of view."
Facebook maintained the site was meant to nurture free speech and encourage the open sharing of ideas, even if those ideas did not necessary line up with the company's beliefs.
Facebook had previously "removed four videos on four Facebook Pages for violating our hate speech and bullying policies." According to the tech company, upon receiving more complaints about the pages and further review, they made the decision to permanently remove several pages.
[U]pon review, 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.All four Pages have been unpublished for repeated violations of Community Standards and accumulating too many strikes. While much of the discussion around Infowars has been related to false news, which is a serious issue that we are working to address by demoting links marked wrong by fact checkers and suggesting additional content, none of the violations that spurred today’s removals were related to this.
The company is not violating the right to free speech as it is a private entity with the ability to create and enforce its own guidelines.
Infowars editor-at-large took to Twitter to decry the move.
Many writers noted though that in 2018, what is posted on social media sites often has dramatic consequences in the real world. Writing about the trolling and harassment faced by a restaurant that recently refused service to Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Buzzfeed writer Charlie Warzel said:
Angry users bring up the issue of political bias largely because the platforms themselves have so consistently and nervously shied away from anything that could be construed as censorship. But in 2018, ideas of political bias and censorship feel almost irrelevant, given the reality of how these platforms actually operate. The discussion of complete neutrality is now a quaint notion when nearly every discussion that takes place on these networks is weaponized toward a political end. It’s a luxurious philosophical debate that the platforms have little time for. Instead, they should be focused on preventing harm.
That’s because there are real people involved. When a fight breaks out in the physical world, it will spill over into the digital one, where the outrage and toxicity will amplify, before spilling right back into the physical world. Damage control is the reality, and policing and taking a stand are the necessity, whether the companies like it or not.
Warzel and those who agree with him claim that maintaining safety in the real world trumps any calls for unregulated free speech.