Facebook has removed 4 Infowars pages — but not because of fake news

There’s yet more Alex Jones/Infowars news. Facebook yanked four of the conspiracy theorist’s videos from its platform last week, and now it has finally taken more stringent action after it removed four Infowars pages from the social network entirely.

Over the weekend Spotify, Stitcher and Apple all removed Infowars audio content from their platforms days after YouTube and then Facebook pulled four videos that were found to violate community standards.

A refresher for those who need it: Infowars has broadcast a range of conspiracy theories which have included claims 9/11 was an inside job and alternate theories to the San Bernardino shootings, while it has encouraged harassment of families of victims of the Sandy Hook shooting among other things

Yet despite much attention on the organization and its use of social media, Facebook’s efforts to handle Infowars have been confusing.

One of the four videos it removed had actually been cleared following a complaint one month ago, while the video purge saw Facebook hand a 30-day ban to Jones’ personal account but the Infowars page — where the content was posted — was able to continue on as normal. That was down to the Facebook system of warnings/accumulated warnings for content violations and nothing to do with peddling fake news. That’s apparently ok.

Indeed, the four Infowars pages that have been “unpublished” — the Alex Jones Channel Page, the Alex Jones Page, the InfoWars Page and the Infowars Nightly News Page — were punished for “repeated violations of Community Standards and accumulating too many strikes” after more videos and content were reported to Facebook by users of the social network.

“Upon review, we have taken [the pages] down for glorifying violence, which violates our graphic violence policy, and using dehumanizing language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims and immigrants, which violates our hate speech policies,” the company explained in an announcement.

Facebook didn’t provide details of exactly which videos violated its policies and how, but it did say explicitly that its action were not related to fake news.

“Much of the discussion around Infowars has been related to false news, which is a serious issue that we are working to address by demoting links marked wrong by fact checkers and suggesting additional content, none of the violations that spurred today’s removals were related to this,” it said in a statement.

Facebook has opted to remain news-neutral, in the sense that only issues warnings based on community standards.

That’s a controversial stance — it is instead pursuing a policy of fact-checking information and letting users make their own mind — but irrespective of whether you agree with that approach, its actions over the past week are problematic because they don’t scale. They rely squarely on the community flagging content in the first instance.

It isn’t clear why Facebook wasn’t able to conduct a more thorough analysis of these Infowars pages last week, when the initial complaints first rolled in. You’d imagine that there’s been enough interest in the topic to warrant a proactive investigation.

Instead, it has taken another week and more reporting of content from users to reach the inevitable conclusion that Infowars has more than just four offensive videos (!) and therefore its pages should be removed(!).

Facebook has chosen to police content based on community guidelines and not the accuracy of information, but the fact it takes so long to take action on the most obvious bad actors doesn’t bode well for finding other, less obvious pages lurking out there that also fall foul of its standards.

Based on that system, it will always be playing catch up. Given the damage that false information can have across its services — from swaying elections to encouraging lynchings, religious violence and more — that simply isn’t good enough.

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