Aug 7, 2018

Big Tech ratchets up oversight on conspiracy theories

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

In less than a week, Spotify, Stitcher, Apple, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest have all taken action to either ban or crack down on InfoWars and its conspiratorial leader Alex Jones. The only platform exception so far has been Twitter, which says Jones has not violated its policies.

Why it matters: The sudden and collective boycott of Alex Jones is a significant tipping point for Big Tech, where values of openness and inclusivity have been tested for years by conspiracy theorists and bad actors.

  • Jones was ultimately banned from most of these platforms for hate speech, not misinformation, on which most tech platforms have a tougher time drawing a clear line.
  • The crackdown comes as Jones and Infowars currently face defamation lawsuits brought against them by Sandy Hook parents — due to his repeated false claims that the elementary school shooting is a hoax.

The big picture: This marks a milestone for organized boycotts on the left, which have included Jones for years on black lists that includes Breitbart News and Rush Limbaugh, per Axios' Mike Allen.

  • And it's a huge loss for fringe voices on the right that have for years taken advantage of the loose policies of open tech platforms to propagate conspiracy theories and other misinformation.

What's next? Jones has mostly been removed from having any major platform on the internet, with the exception of Twitter, his website, other less prominent platforms on the web (Gab, 4chan), and ... his apps.

Infowars launched a new app on July 9th, replacing its old app that was built in 2016. It has been downloaded about 93,000 times already and has logged more than 600,000 hours spent in-app by these users, according to Apptopia estimates.

  • It's currently ranked #4 in top free apps in the news category, ahead of those like MSNBC, BBC News, Fox News and the New York Times in the Apple App Store.

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Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The novel coronavirus has now killed more than 4,000 people in the U.S. — with over 1,000 deaths reported in New York City, per Johns Hopkins.

The state of play: President Trump said Tuesday it's "going to be a very painful two weeks," with projections indicating the virus could kill 100,000–240,000 Americans — even with strict social distancing guidelines in place.

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

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  5. Federal government latest: President Trump said the next two weeks would be "very painful," with projections indicating the virus could kill 100,000–240,000 Americans.
  6. Coronavirus in custody: Inmates in all U.S. federal prisons are set to enter a 14-day quarantine on April 1. A federal judge on Tuesday ordered U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to release 10 detained immigrants who are at risk from COVID-19.
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Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

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Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

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