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Facebook, defending fake news, gives platform to another right-wing conspiracy

Unsubstantiated comments by Alex Jones against Robert Mueller are allowed to stand, says Facebook.

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Joan E. Solsman/CNET

Alex Jones tested Facebook's willingness to defend its community standards after the InfoWars conspiracy theorist accused Robert Mueller of pedophilia and came close to threatening the special counsel in a livestream from the social network.

In a Monday rant, Jones said Mueller raped children, as well as protected others who did so. He provided no evidence for the allegation, which was streamed live on his personal Facebook page. The page has 1.7 million likes.

After accusing Mueller, a former FBI director who served in the Vietnam War and is a decorated Marine Corps veteran, Jones pantomimed shooting Mueller, who is currently investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

"We're going to walk out in the square, politically, at high noon, and he's going to find out whether he makes a move man, make the move first, and then it's going to happen," Jones intoned. With spaghetti Western music playing in the background, Jones then curled his fist into a pretend gun, which he imitated firing several times.

A Facebook spokesperson said in an email that Jones's action didn't breach the social network's community standards because they didn't constitute a credible intent to commit violence. Facebook's standards say it will "remove content, disable accounts, and work with law enforcement when we believe there is a genuine risk of physical harm or direct threats to public safety."

Mueller's office declined to comment. Jones didn't respond to a request for comment.

The Jones rant comes as Facebook's willingness to host fake news, conspiracy theories and hoaxes continues to raise eyebrows. Last week, the tech giant tried to explain its tolerance for such material, arguing that fake news should be demoted in results rather than banned. The company said the policy defends free speech.

"We just don't think banning Pages for sharing conspiracy theories or false news is the right way to go," Facebook said in a tweet Thursday.

The social network has long been under fire for its handling of fake news. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during an interview last week that posts by Holocaust deniers shouldn't be demoted from Facebook because "I don't think that they're intentionally getting it wrong."

The comment sparked outrage and Zuckerberg clarified with a follow-up statement hours later that "our goal with fake news is not to prevent anyone from saying something untrue -- but to stop fake news and misinformation spreading across our services."

First published on July 24, 4:34 p.m. PT.

Updates on July 25, 10:20 a.m. PT: Adds Facebook spokesperson said in an email that Alex Jones video didn't breach the company's community standards.

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