Facebook Banned Infowars. Now What?

Kevin Roose — New York Times Aug 10, 2018

zuckerborg big brother

Late on Sunday, after returning to his hotel room on a trip away from home, Mark Zuckerberg made a decision he had hoped to avoid.

For weeks, the Facebook chief executive and his colleagues had debated what to do about Infowars, the notorious far-right news site, and Alex Jones, Infowars’ choleric founder, who became famous for his spittle-flecked rants and far-fetched conspiracies, including the idea that the Sandy Hook massacre was an elaborate hoax promoted by gun-control supporters.

Mr Jones is just one Facebook user out of 2.2 billion, but he had become symbolic of tech platforms’ inconsistency and reluctance to engage in a misinformation war.

The pressure on Facebook to do something about him had intensified after executives gave a series of vague and confusing answers to lawmakers and reporters about the company’s policies. Misinformation was allowed to stay on the platform, they said, but hate speech wasn’t. So users dug up and reported old Infowars posts, asking for their removal on the grounds that they glorified violence and contained dehumanizing language against Muslims, immigrants, and transgender people.

These posts clearly violated Facebook’s hate speech rules. And in a normal situation, a low-level content moderator might have reviewed them, found that they qualified, and taken them down.

But Mr Jones was no typical internet crank. He has millions of followers, a popular video show, and the ear of President Trump — who once told the provocateur that his reputation was “amazing.” Banning such a prominent activist would lead to political blowback, no matter how justified the action was.

The situation was volatile enough that Mr Zuckerberg got personally engaged, according to two people involved in Facebook’s handling of the accounts. He discussed Infowars at length with other executives, and mused privately about whether Mr Jones — who once called Mr Zuckerberg a “genetic-engineered psychopath” in a video — was purposefully trying to get kicked off the platform to gain attention, they said.

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