Sarvasv Kulpati

@sarvasvkulpati

We Need To Reconsider Platform Policies For A Better Internet

How to prevent conspiracy theorists from destroying people’s lives

In 24 hours between August 5th and 6th 2018, Apple, Facebook, YouTube, and just about every major platform finally banned Alex Jones from their platforms.

Of course, this was a long time coming. Jones gained notoriety for calling the Sandy Hook Massacre fake, saying that Obama was not born in the USA, and that Democrats ran a secret child sex-trafficking ring out of pizza shops (amongst other things).

While his removal will definitely make these platforms a less hostile place, the means of his removal exposed a dangerous flaw in the methods of online platforms — They didn’t remove him based on specific violations of their rules, but rather due to collective pressure from seeing other platforms ban him.

These platforms need more rigorous and transparent standards they adhere to, and prevent situations where they need to wait for public pressure to ban people clearly violating rules.

The Power Of Online Platforms

As the internet becomes increasingly ubiquitous, the issue of what should get censored online is becoming increasingly prevalent.

Platforms like Facebook and Twitter allow millions of people to watch and share information. It follows that if any of this information is false or hate speech, a lot of people will hear them, and a lot of people will be swayed by them.

The potential for harm can be seen with one of Alex Jones’ conspiracy theories — Mr. Pozner and Ms. De La Rosa, parents of a child killed during the Sandy Hook Massacre, received death threats after Jones posted a video titled “Sandy Hook Vampires Exposed”, which implied Ms. De La Rosa was an actor.

When people use their influence on such platforms to cause the harassment of individuals, they should undoubtedly be banned. The only question is, why didn’t Apple, Youtube, Facebook or Spotify ban him any sooner?

A Pressured Response

In July, when Facebook’s head of newsfeed John Hegeman was asked about why InfoWars — Alex Jones’ network, hadn’t been banned yet, he said that “ just for being false”, the network doesn’t “violate the community standards,” and that InfoWars had “not violated something that would result in them being taken down”.

This was even though Mr. Pozner and Ms. De La Rosa had to move seven times in the past five years to escape harassment from Sandy Hook “truthers.”

After pressure from the public, Facebook eventually only temporarily suspended the InfoWars page, with Youtube and Spotify following a similar method of removing content but never taking strong action against InfoWars.

However, podcast platform Stitcher was much more definitive in their stance. After an angry tweet by a user they immediately took action —

Soon after Apple removed InfoWars from its podcasts. Surprisingly, Facebook then did a complete reversal of their previous statements and published a statement explaining how they received more information about content they found 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”

Soon to follow was Youtube, as well as Spotify, Linkedin, Vimeo and Pinterest.

It is highly unlikely that every site independently made the decision to ban InfoWars on the same day. InfoWars has been creating content that violates their community guidelines for years. What really seems to be the case is that each site erred on the side of safety.

When Facebook justified keeping Alex Jones on their platform, the least radical course of action for companies to take was to keep him on their platforms as well, and even though he clearly violated the sites’ policies, he was allowed to remain.

However, the moment Stitcher and Apple, two prominent companies, removed him from their platforms, keeping him on the platform was now the most radical course of action. Facebook scrambled to do a complete reversal at 3am and banned him. The Alex Jones situation then reached a tipping point, after which nearly every big online platform then proceeded to temporarily or entirely ban him.

What Online Platforms Need Moving Forward

If these platforms truly followed their policies, Alex Jones would have been banned years ago. The danger here comes from the fact that most of these companies banned him because of group pressure and the potential PR repercussions of leaving him untouched.

What the companies should have done was ban him for specific violations of their policy. If online platforms don’t have consistent guidelines on who they ban and how, it can lead to political bias, unfair censorship, and the rise of people like Alex Jones who spread lies and hate while dog accounts get suspended.

Online platforms need more transparent guidelines that they will strictly adhere to

Every account on a platform, whether it be the leader of a country or a mom blogger, should be treated with the same standards. In fact, the influence that millions of followers bring should increase the scrutiny on larger accounts.

Social media companies should be rigorous in warning accounts that violate these standards and be transparent as to why exactly it is they are getting warnings.

Hopefully, doing so will lead to a web that is less toxic, hateful, and filled with conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones who spread lies and hate for a living.

In fact, Jones himself knows how fake his stories are, according to the BBC, his lawyers said that

“it is his constitutional right to invent stories and that no reasonable person would take Mr Jones’ words as fact.”

Unfortunately, what close to two and a half million YouTube subscribers on his now terminated channel will tell you, is that there might be more unreasonable people on the internet than you’d think.

Thanks for reading,

Sarvasv

More by Sarvasv Kulpati

Topics of interest

More Related Stories