Twitter's Dorsey vows 'consistent' enforcement after Alex Jones, Infowars suspended

But still no full ban for the conspiracy theorist who's used Twitter to attack children and families.

Ian Sherr 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. 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
3 min read

Jack Dorsey, in his interview with NBC News, published Wednesday.

Screenshot by CNET

Twitter needs to be consistent.

That's the thing its CEO, Jack Dorsey , wants us to understand. He won't allow Twitter to be "subjective just to the whims of what we personally believe."

This idea, which he's discussed before, and which he reiterated in an interview with NBC News on Wednesday, is at the heart of Twitter's odd place in Silicon Valley's free speech debate. 

It all began last week when a series of companies, from Apple to Facebook to YouTube to Stitcher, banned conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his publication, Infowars. He'd used those companies' services as outlets for his show, in which he's claimed that the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a hoax (false) and that the student survivors of a mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school were "crisis actors" (false). He's also accused Hillary Clinton of being involved in a child sex trafficking ring (false).

Jones, each of the tech companies said, violated terms of service, particularly prohibitions against dehumanizing speech and hateful conduct. 

Each company, that is, except Twitter. The company defiantly refused to follow the tech industry's lead, saying it would hold Jones to the same standards as everyone else, and that he'd lose his account only if he broke Twitter's rules

On Tuesday, Twitter followed through on that pledge, suspending Jones' account for a week after he seemingly used Twitter's Periscope livestreaming app to tell viewers to "have their battle rifles" ready and then included a snippet of that clip in a tweet. Jones made the rifles remark after other statements, like "mainstream media is the enemy" and "now it's time to act on the enemy."

Dorsey agreed with NBC News anchor Lester Holt when Holt said Jones' remarks were spine-chilling.

"There's a number of actions that we believe help a call to an incitement of violence, and those are things we need to make sure that we're taking action on," Dorsey said in the interview. 

Twitter didn't respond to requests for further comment or make Dorsey available for an interview.

Despite the Twitter suspension Wednesday, Jones' video remained on Periscope. But shortly after CNET exclusively reported on that situation, the company suspended Jones' Periscope account as well. Infowars' Twitter account has also since been suspended.

In a separate interview with The Washington Post, Dorsey said he's reexamining some of the core parts of how Twitter works in the wake of Silicon Valley's moves against Infowars. He's open to creating features that push alternative viewpoints in people's timelines, for example, and more clearly labeling bots, or computer programs that masquerade as real people in order to falsely amplify a political point or product

"The most important thing that we can do is we look at the incentives that we're building into our product," Dorsey said. "Because they do express a point of view of what we want people to do — and I don't think they are correct anymore."

In the meantime, Dorsey acknowledged to NBC that Twitter needs to do more to stamp out harassment and hate speech.

"We need to look at behaviors, when people are trying to shut down the voices of others," Dorsey told NBC. "People are trying to harass others. And that's independent of a viewpoint."

First published Aug. 15 at 1:21 p.m. PT.
Update at 2:58 p.m. PT: Adds details from Washington Post interview with Dorsey.

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

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