he debate about fake news has been raging on for a while now. In this age, being the first to break the news on social media can do a lot for a journalist’s career. An active social media presence is almost a necessity in this field.
It’s not just news that these journalists are posting on their social media, more and more reporters are becoming increasingly vocal about their opinions online. So much that some of the most intense debates you will find are under a journalist’s posts.
Alex Jones, a popular radio host among the right-wing, is an example of a media personality who was not afraid of expressing his opinion online. The comments section under his personal account and Infowars, which he ran, always had some of the fiercest online debates.
We are using the past tense had because Alex Jones is no longer on any social media platform. He was banned from Facebook, YouTube, Spotify, Apple and, finally Twitter. The first four tech giants accused him of spreading hate speech.
Jones is perhaps most famous for saying that the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting was a ‘giant hoax’. It was widely reported that twenty children under the age of seven and six adults died in the shooting. Two parents, whose children died in the shooting, are currently suing Jones for defamation.
Twitter had initially resisted the temptation to ban Jones because they pride themselves in being ‘a company that does not use ideology to make decisions’. Twitter’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Jack Dorsey, stated that Jones had not violated any of the company’s community guidelines and, that he will only be banned if Twitter finds tweets violating their guidelines after an investigation.
However, the decision to finally ban him came after Jones publicly posted an altercation between him and CNN journalist on Twitter’s video platform Periscope. In the video, Jones is seen yelling at the CNN journalist.
Twitter did not explicitly state how Jones violated their guidelines in the series of tweets that it provided after the ban. Many Conservatives came out to defend Jones and accused tech giants of censorship.
While the bans were applauded by the left, this decision to censor certain individuals begs several questions. Are these companies choosing political sides? Why are they not giving a comprehensive account of how individuals violate terms? Will the same standard be held to vocal leftist supporters? Are they bowing to public pressure?
Let’s face it. The accusation of election meddling, the use of advertisements on social media to send political messages and, the influence individuals with high social media following had in the lead up to the US presidential election of 2016 has put these tech giants in an unfamiliar turf.
Some of the decisions can be interpreted as trying to make up for not doing more to prevent violation of their platforms and their user data in the past. Trust between the users and these companies was breached. Like any other relationship, these companies are trying to rebuild that trust.
At what cost? Who knows. The decisions these tech companies are making right now might not forebode well for their future. A time will come when the active users will demand access to the comprehensive investigation after censorship. They will be in an unwinnable race to satisfy both left and right-wing groups to keep them on the platform.
Online censorship is a slippery slope and these companies need to come up with a clear, transparent strategy on how to tackle it – fast!