Opinion

Twitter Leadership Fails the Infowars Test

By Michael Posner

Michael Posner

Internet companies have for too long asserted that they are simply plumbers, running value-neutral pipes to convey content.

This week several major Internet companies announced that they were taking down Infowars, Alex Jones’ inflammatory online platform. Notably absent from the list was Twitter. This is a case that is testing the core values of the major Internet providers and the practical applications of their community standards. And to date, Twitter is failing those tests.

Alex Jones embodies our spreading political polarization, peddling malicious falsehoods and exacerbating racial and ethnic tensions in American society. Since he founded Infowars in 1999, Jones has built a massive online following, in part because of his promotion of provocative but clearly false assertions. He has advanced the view that September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, were staged by the U.S. government. In 2012, he opined that the killing of 26 students and teachers at a Newtown, Conn. school was staged by left-wing forces seeking to promote gun control.

In finally taking down Infowars accounts, Apple, Facebook, Google and Spotify made value judgments about the type of content they would not tolerate on their sites. These are private companies, and each has the power--I would say the responsibility--to make such decisions. In exercising these judgments, each company must balance the importance of free speech and allow a diversity of views against the dangers of harmful content--for example, Jones’ demonstrably false assertions about Sandy Hook or “hate speech” that further divides our society.  These corporate values are codified in each company’s community standards.

Read the full Forbes article.

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Michael Posner is a Professor of Business and Society and Director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights.