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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Twitter Finally Bans Alex Jones—Over a Publicity Stunt

Professional tragedy troll Alex Jones went to Washington Wednesday to claw back the attention he's lost since Facebook, Apple, YouTube, Spotify, and other tech giants booted him from their services last month. He stalked behind Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey as they testified to the Senate, accosted senator Marco Rubio during a post-hearing interview, berated a CNN reporter as he stood in the hallways, and broadcast it all on Twitter, the last platform that would have him.

And it backfired.

On Thursday, just a day after Jones brought his circus to Capitol Hill, Twitter announced it was finally banning Jones and his conspiracy site InfoWars, citing "new reports of Tweets and videos posted yesterday that violate our abusive behavior policy." That policy prohibits "excessively aggressive insults that target an individual, including content that contains slurs or similar language." Dorsey had previously defended Twitter's decision to allow Jones to continue operating on the platform, saying Jones hadn't violated Twitter's policies.

But in early August, CNN reporter Oliver Darcy publicly pointed out a number of instances in which Jones had, in fact, violated those policies, leading Jones—or someone on his team—to delete the tweets in question. Days later, Twitter forced Jones to delete another offending tweet and put his account in read-only mode for a week. The time-out lifted, and Jones' account lived on.

Ironically, it was the initial CNN story—or rather, Jones' unhinged response to it—that proved his eventual undoing. On Wednesday, just before Dorsey was set to testify at his second congressional hearing of the day, Jones approached Darcy as he waited in line with media colleagues to be let into the hearing room. Jones, flanked by his entourage, cornered Darcy, jabbed a phone in his face, and harassed the reporter for more than 10 minutes about his work, his employer, and his looks, saying he has the "eyes of a rat." The entire ordeal streamed on Periscope, which is owned by Twitter.

That this particular broadside was the last straw for Twitter seems curious. Yes, Twitter had plenty of reason to suspend Jones on Thursday. But it had just as many reasons a week ago and the week before that, and in early August when all of its contemporaries jumped ship. Compared to Jones' long trail of misdeeds on Twitter—claiming that no one was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting, and comparing Parkland shooting survivors to Nazis, to name a few—his rant against Darcy seems tame. Certainly a CNN reporter who covers Jones for a living is better equipped to handle his ravings than a mass shooting victim would be, and insulting a person's looks hardly compares to claiming a parent's dead child never really existed.

But ultimately, the tirade against Darcy was too public for Twitter to ignore. Standing there, in the halls of Congress, outside the room where Twitter's CEO sat, and in front of nearly every tech reporter in the industry, Jones tested the limits of what he could get away with until suddenly he couldn't get away with it anymore.

Jones will surely try to capitalize on his ouster from Twitter, just as he tried to use his banishment from the rest of the tech giants as a rallying cry. But if history is any indication, it won’t work. A recent report by The New York Times suggests that traffic to Jones’ InfoWars webpage has been cut in half since the great de-platforming began.

As for Twitter, taking this action was likely only a matter of time. Ever since the company broke with its peers to stand beside Jones, all eyes have been on the @realalexjones account, waiting for even the slightest infraction. And it was a relatively slight infraction, for Jones at least, that did it.

Still, for Dorsey in particular, the timing was apt, if a little too late. On Wednesday, the CEO spent the day vowing to make Twitter a “healthy” place for its users, even if it comes at a price. “We’re willing to take the hard path,” he told members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. That path only starts with saying goodbye to Jones.

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