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Image credit: Jim Bourg / Reuters

Twitter doesn’t have the spine to ban Alex Jones

Apparently, he can spread his dangerous conspiracies as long as he doesn’t @ people.
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Alex Jones (center) at a conspiracy theory rally in Dallas, Texas. Jim Bourg / Reuters

It seems like every major tech company has had enough of Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist and propagandist behind the controversial far-right site InfoWars. Well, almost everyone. The obvious holdout: Twitter. On Monday, Twitter said InfoWars and its associated accounts, including Jones', were not currently violating its rules. And last night its CEO and co-founder, Jack Dorsey, tried to explain the decision. He said Twitter is going to "hold Jones to the same standard we hold to every account," but that it isn't "taking one-off actions to make us feel good in the short term, and adding fuel to new conspiracy theories."

Dorsey added, "Accounts like Jones' can often sensationalize issues and spread unsubstantiated rumors, 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." So instead of taking responsibility for misinformation spread on his own platform, Dorsey is saying that it's journalists' responsibility to refute the dangerous garbage he and his company are giving a voice to.

What's even more concerning than Dorsey's cowardice is what was being tweeted from the Twitter Safety account last night. One tweet said, "As we have stated publicly, we strongly believe Twitter should not be the arbiter of truth nor do we have scalable solutions to determine and action what's true or false." That's basically the same half-hearted approach that Facebook's taking with its fight against fake news. You can't say you want to take down harmful content like misinformation yet at the same time allow it to live on your platform and "let the people" decide what's real or not. The truth isn't subjective.

Jack Dorsey, Twitter CEO

Additionally, the Twitter Safety account said that, "We welcome everyone to express themselves on our service. Sometimes these expressions may be offensive, controversial, and/or bigoted. We prohibit targeted behavior that harasses, threatens, or uses fear to silence others and take action when they violate our policies." But here's the catch: "If individuals are not targeted (e.g. @ mention, tagged in a photo, etc.), we allow a wide range of content as long as it doesn't cross the line into threatening violence." In other words, Jones can basically say anything he wants about victims of school shootings, as long as he doesn't threaten them or @ mention them. Yeah, that should keep Twitter safe.

According to the Twitter Rules, "You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease. We also do not allow accounts whose primary purpose is inciting harm towards others on the basis of these categories."

Twitter said it's "always evaluating the changing nature of conversation online, and our policies," and pointed to a blog post titled "The Twitter Rules: A Living Document," which explained that there may be instances when an old tweet may violate a new rule. In that case, the user might be ask to remove the offensive tweet, but the account won't be suspended.

The Twitter Rules seem pretty clear. And since Dorsey seems to believe it's our job to decide when Jones and InfoWars violate those guidelines, here are some tweets from the schlubby hatemonger that seem pretty questionable -- especially when Twitter's locking accounts for simply setting their display name to "Elon Musk."

A history of controversial tweets

Arguably, comparing being banned on YouTube to Nazi Germany is anti-Semitic and demeans the suffering of millions.

This is clear harassment and a personal attack on the victims of a mass shooting.

Jones clearly eggs on his followers to prepare for violence (if not proactively commit acts of violence) by spreading fake rumors of an attack by his political opponents.

Again Jones launches an objectively false personal attack on the child victims of a mass shooting.

This is undeniable targeted harassment of a teenage boy. But it's OK because Jones didn't @ him? 👍

All right, maybe this one doesn't violate the TOS, but it is objectively the dumbest thing I've ever heard.

This is not only false but also blatantly racist.

This tweet implies that there is something inherently wrong with being Muslim and constitutes hate speech.

Again Jones uses racism to target Muslims and then ups the ante by suggesting all Muslims are militarized (and by extension, his followers should take up arms against them).

This implies strongly that there is something wrong with being gay and then turns that into a personal attack.

Just casually dropping slurs. No big deal.

Jones again goes after his favorite target -- children.

Images: Reuters (Jack Dorsey)

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