August 10, 2018
Always the trendsetter, Apple’s decisive action against the rightwing media outlet Infowars has led to an unprecedented domino effect. After Apple delisted podcast links, Spotify soon followed. Facebook made a decision to “unpublish” Infowars’ pages hours later, before the group’s main home, YouTube, said it had “terminated” the group’s channel, which was watched by 2.5 million subscribers (Alex Jones claims millions more have signed up since the ban).
Hundreds of well-intentioned campaigners, commentators and even journalists are celebrating the public hanging of Infowars – but this style of execution benefits no one.
The biggest internet platforms are increasingly society’s chief arbiters of free speech. Our conversations, relationships, businesses and democracies are increasingly mediated by a handful of global, for-profit companies.
Those companies are within their rights to set rules about who can and cannot share information on their sites – but Facebook and YouTube have become de facto global information services. Of the world’s 4 billion-plus internet users, more than 2 billion are active Facebook users and 1.8 billion have active YouTube accounts. When tech giants hold a monopoly on free speech online, that responsibility must be taken particularly seriously.
But the way in which the tech giants have dealt with Infowars doesn’t appear to be serious at all. The industry-wide no-platforming appears to be a herd-like PR exercise rather than a regulatory one. Despite the prevalence of misogynistic, race-baiting and some frankly bonkers Infowars content, the removals were not in relation to specific posts or videos and the reasons given were generalised ones. Even smaller companies such as Discus, LinkedIn, MailChimp and Pinterest have rushed into the industry dog-pile.
It may be that Infowars exceeded a prescribed…