After weeks of struggling to answer questions about whether or not Alex Jones and InfoWars should be allowed to remain on Facebook, the company caught some onlookers by surprise when it announced early Monday morning that it had “unpublished” pages belonging to Alex Jones and InfoWars.
Nothing had changed in terms of the content posted by the accounts run by Jones and InfoWars. Facebook had previously removed some posts from the accounts, but additional “strikes” hadn’t been publicly reported.
In a blog post, Facebook said the decision was a result of a review of “more content from the same Pages,” that prompted the action. But what really changed Zuckerberg’s mind on the issue was apparently a separate decision by an entirely different company: Apple.
The New York Times reports that after struggling with the Jones/InfoWars decision for some time, Zuckerberg personally made the call to suspend the accounts after Apple pulled InfoWars’ podcasts from iTunes.
“After seeing the news, Mr. Zuckerberg sent a note to his team confirming his own decision: the strikes against Infowars and Mr. Jones would count individually, and the pages would come down,” the report says.
Soon after, the floodgates opened and other social platforms — Twitter being a notable exception — took similar actions.
What’s notable about all this, though, is not just the new insight into how Zuckerberg and other executives wrestled with the decision (though the column from NYT’s Kevin Roose is worth reading in full). For most observers, it’s been clear for weeks that Facebook, which has been reluctant to become “an arbiter of truth,” was struggling with questions about Jones.
On one hand, the company was obviously deeply uncomfortable with many of Jones’ positions, such as his propagation of conspiracy theories about the shooting at Sandy Hook. On the other hand, Zuckerberg and other execs believe the company has a responsibility to protect free speech. (This was the point Zuck was trying to make when he clumsily suggested Holocaust deniers may not be “intentionally getting it wrong.”) Complicating it all are persistent allegations from the right that Facebook is biased against conservatives.
What’s particularly striking, though, is how much consideration was given to Apple’s actions, as evidenced by the fact Zuckerberg chose to follow their lead so closely. As the Times points out, Apple has tried to claim the “moral high ground” on these types of issues in the past. (Apple CEO Tim Cook has recently taken a few jabs at Facebook over its handling of privacy issues, for example.)
But while the two CEOs have previously disagreed, Zuckerberg was apparently content to follow Apple’s example as it relates to Jones and InfoWars.