Twitter CEO Dorsey explains ignoring Infowars' rules violations

Speaking to CNN, Dorsey says Twitter didn't take action against Alex Jones until others pointed out bad behavior.

Ian Sherr Contributor and Former Editor at Large / News
Ian Sherr (he/him/his) grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area, so he's always had a connection to the tech world. As an editor at large at CNET, he wrote about Apple, Microsoft, VR, video games and internet troubles. Aside from writing, he tinkers with tech at home, is a longtime fencer -- the kind with swords -- and began woodworking during the pandemic.
Ian Sherr
2 min read
Twitter suspends thousands of accounts for pro-terrorism and violence contents

Twitter is under increasing scrutiny over harassment on its service.

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Two weeks ago, Apple, Facebook, YouTube and others kicked the harassing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his Infowars site off their services. 

But Twitter refused until Tuesday, when it suspended him for seven days after he effectively called on his viewers to take up arms against journalists and others. What changed?

It turns out, the media did. Jack Dorsey, Twitter's CEO, told CNN in an interview Sunday that the work that network and other reporters did digging up instances where Jones and his Infowars broke the company's rules ultimately helped lead to his ban.

Until those reports started coming in, Twitter hadn't received reports "that we felt we could take action on that violated our terms of service," he said. "As we receive reports, we take action."

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Dorsey saying Twitter doesn't proactively police its service much isn't particularly new -- Facebook, YouTube and Twitter all say they rely heavily on us, the users, to point out bad behavior. But it's a reminder that even at high-profile moments, such as after Apple, Facebook, YouTube, Spotify, Stitcher and others had banned Jones from their services for bad behavior, Twitter still didn't devote resources to keeping an eye on a user who has a history of attacking traumatized victims of mass shootings, and their families.

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Dorsey, at a conference in July.

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Dorsey told CNN Sunday that it was a matter of time, energy and money. "People may say you should be a lot more proactive around all the content. And while we could do that, it just requires so many resources," he said. (Twitter, meanwhile, posted $133 million in adjusted profits for the three months ended June 30.) "I mean, hours and hours and hours of looking through video content."

For its part, Facebook's solution has been twofold. It's pledged to hire 10,000 more security and content moderation employees, a significant investment that's already appears to drag down the company's profits.

Silicon Valley has also been trying to train computer programs to better identify bad behavior. So far, Facebook said its programs have identified 99 percent of terrorist propaganda before anyone has a chance to report it to the company. But it struggles more with hate speech, the company has said.

Meanwhile, conservative pundits are pushing back, raising concerns that tech companies are censoring dissenting voices. They've also complained the companies aren't being transparent enough about how they arrive at their decisions, or what posts in particular are at issue.

President Donald Trump on Saturday tweeted about the issue, arguing that social media companies are "closing down the opinions" of conservatives.

"They are closing down the opinions of many people on the RIGHT, while at the same time doing nothing to others," he tweeted. "Speaking loudly and clearly for the Trump Administration, we won't let that happen."

Jones' suspension from Twitter will likely lift by Tuesday evening.

Infowars and Silicon Valley: Everything you need to know about the tech industry's free speech debate.

iHate: CNET looks at how intolerance is taking over the internet.