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This article was published on July 26, 2018

YouTube offers an imperfect solution to Facebook’s Alex Jones problem

YouTube offers an imperfect solution to Facebook’s Alex Jones problem
Bryan Clark
Story by

Bryan Clark

Former Managing Editor, TNW

Bryan is a freelance journalist. Bryan is a freelance journalist.

Beleaguered Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg caused quite a stir last week in an interview with Recode’s Kara Swisher. In their 90 minute talk, Zuckerberg and Swisher discussed Facebook’s wild ride the past two years, including his thoughts on fake news and what the company was doing to prevent its spread.

When asked about Alex Jones, peddler of perhaps the most offensive content in online media, Zuckerberg said:

The approach that we’ve taken to false news is not to say, you can’t say something wrong on the internet. I think that that would be too extreme. Everyone gets things wrong, and if we were taking down people’s accounts when they got a few things wrong, then that would be a hard world for giving people a voice and saying that you care about that. But at the same time … I do think we have a responsibility to make sure that those aren’t hoaxes and blatant misinformation.

As abhorrent as some of this content can be, I do think that it gets down to this principle of giving people a voice.

But what Facebook giveth, YouTube taketh away.

Today YouTube issued Alex Jones a 90 day slap on the wrist for violating the site’s community guidelines. In four videos (now deleted), the purveyor of half-truths and complete falsehoods stepped over the line once again in creating content that contained instances of hate speech and child endangerment. Jones, who has 2.4 million YouTube subscribers, acknowledged as much in a blog post at InfoWars earlier today. The Verge corroborated the story.

Realistically speaking, the 90 day ban amounts to a nothing sandwich. Jones’ videos remain viewable and monetized, and there’s nothing preventing him from uploading new ones. As punishments go, the only real repercussion is that Jones can’t use the live broadcasting platform for 90 days.

Frustrating, to be sure. But it’s still more than Facebook has proven willing to do. Not only has the world’s largest social network not taken any meaningful action against Jones, it’s still displaying videos that YouTube decided were egregious enough to warrant the ban, and their deletion.

One of these videos, titled “How to Prevent Liberalism: A Public Service Announcement,” urges liberals to wear condoms while suggesting an aggressive boy being shoved to the ground by a grown man was getting what he deserved.

Jones is fresh off at least one previous YouTube strike, in February.

That one, you may recall, came at the expense of survivors of the Parkland, Florida school shooting. Never one to shy from a good conspiracy theory, Jones alleged (falsely) that students at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School — students who took the fight to the NRA and politicians after watching 17 of their classmates get gunned down — were liberal shills, paid crisis actors meant to advance anti-gun agendas.

In an effort to give the world a voice, what Zuckerberg is really telling us is that Facebook has no clue how to moderate its fake news problem. Humans didn’t work. Artificial intelligence was even worse. At this point, he seems content to throw his hands up in quiet resignation while someone else figures it out.

In the mean time, “giving the world a voice” is a narrative seems to suit the social network’s purposes just fine. But in giving a Jones a platform, Zuckerberg is seemingly unfazed by past incidents in which he’s used it.

Take PizzaGate, a hair-brained conspiracy theory Jones trumpeted about a DC-area pizza parlor harboring kids on the premise as part of a Clinton-backed pedophilia ring. Or there’s Sandy Hook, which Jones told anyone willing to listen, was a non-event, a false flag operation carried out by government operatives in which no children died and parents were really actors paid to push an anti-gun narrative.

The former led to a gunman opening fire inside the establishment after traveling hours to “investigate” the claims. Thankfully no one was hurt. The latter, as we’re all painfully aware, led to the death of 28 people at Sandy Hook Elementary, most of whom were kids.

Jones later softened his stance on both stories in an attempt to distance himself from the claims.

Jones’ YouTube channel, peddler of conspiracy ranging from believable to batshit

In Jones, it’s unclear whether he can even discern reality from illusion anymore, or if he ever could.

When I talked with Jones’ ex-wife, Kelly, earlier this year, she described a man who had grown addicted to fame and was willing to keep the momentum going through any means necessary. Often, this was by making bolder claims that were increasingly detached from reality. She spoke of a man getting angrier and more paranoid with each rambling diatribe — all while believing every word he spoke to be true.

Jones believes, in fact, that he’s the only source of information that remains untarnished in the modern media ecosystem — facts, figures, and hindsight be damned.

Mrs. Jones stopped short of diagnosing him with mental illness herself, but she didn’t pull any punches in making allegations of substance abuse, or in accusing Jones of losing his grip on reality. His bizarre and unruly behavior during at a custody hearing last year would seem to back her assessment.

For Zuckerberg, it’s this understanding that is important. If you’re willing to give men like Jones a voice, you must first accept that, throughout his career, he’s used it to inflict unknowable damage. He’s taunted victims, incited violence, and misled the public. In giving him a lectern, you must first acknowledge that he’s going to use it to beat others over the head.

But it doesn’t seem to matter; Zuckerberg isn’t yet ready to pull the plug on his grand experiment.

So long as Jones isn’t “organizing harm against someone or attacking someone” — which, I must not understand the definition of, as this seems to be exactly what he’s doing — then Facebook is content to allow him to stick around, regardless of how contradictory its message runs to Facebook’s.

Which, we’re told, is continuing to fight fake news.

As for YouTube, the company hasn’t offered anything approaching a complete solution. But it has, at least, proven it won’t be bullied into submission. While Zuckerberg argues everyone deserves a voice, YouTube understands that this platform can’t be used to harass, bully, or threaten others.

Facebook isn’t quite there yet.

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