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Recently some of Alex Jones's accounts were banned from Apple, Youtube, Spotify, and Facebook.

These are private companies but it has been suggested that (in this instance, and also in general) these companies are willing to do what the US government wants them to do because if they don't then they will be regulated and they will have to do what the government wants them to do anyway.

So does pressure from the US government really dictate the decisions of such companies?

Do they get benefits for taking certain actions or refraining from other actions that align with the US government's policies?

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    What evidence can you present which substantiates that the U.S. government dictated to the companies mentioned to censor Alex Jones? – guest271314 Aug 11 '18 at 6:48
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    "The US government" currently is Donald Trump. Alex Jones is an outspoken Donald Trump supporter. Donald Trump certainly has threatened media for their publications, but only non compliant media like The Washington Post and never Alex Jones conspiracy theorist site. – SJuan76 Aug 11 '18 at 7:02
  • in some cases (bush's ban on photos of troop coffins for example), but not in alex jones case. We also know they cooperate with mass surveillance and broad-based info requests, thanks to snowden, and in those "security" cases, companies indeed cooperate with the government in many capacities without "having" to. – dandavis Aug 11 '18 at 7:06
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    @SJuan76 "Government" is a broad term. Since virtually all tech companies are from California, it wouldn't need to be the white house exerting the pressure, the CA governor is "government" as well. – janh Aug 11 '18 at 7:18
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    You need to be more specific regarding what sort of things the government may tell or instruct companies to do. Obviously, the US and other countries have laws which the companies have to follow. The government (or rather its judicial branch, possibly instructed by the executive branch) can decide to pursue certain crimes more thoroughly or to look the other way. – JJJ Aug 11 '18 at 7:18
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In the general sense, yes -- the US Govt. has many laws and regulations all corporations doing business in the USA must comply with and conform to.

But there's no evidence that YouTube et al giving Alex Jones the boot was an instance of some legal or regulatory imperative, and no need to speculate about secret reasons when the public reasons are cogent enough. Providing a high visibility platform for Jones' strident political opinions has:

  1. conflicted with those corporations somewhat flexible in-house standards.

  2. caused bad and embarrassing press for those corporations.

  3. arguably caused injury to several victims of infamous crimes who having survived the crimes, have afterwards been harassed and menaced by some of Jones' more actively obsessed fans. Jones may therefore be a civil law liability for corporations that garner any profits from his works.

Bottom line: For them Jones in 2018 is a likely money loser; keeping Jones would probably cost those corporations more money than they can make from him.

  • "Somewhat flexible in-house standards" Great choice of words – Frank Cedeno Aug 13 '18 at 17:19
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The reason given by these companies is that Jones's hate speech violates their policies:

[I]n Spotify’s words, Infowars “expressly and principally promotes, advocates, or incites hatred or violence against a group or individual based on characteristics.”

Facebook said they were shutting down several of Jones’s pages 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.” Apple said in a statement to BuzzFeed News, “Apple does not tolerate hate speech, and we have clear guidelines that creators and developers must follow to ensure we provide a safe environment for all of our users,” adding, “podcasts that violate these guidelines are removed from our directory.”

In the case of Youtube, he was banned for purposefully evading an earlier ban:

All users agree to comply with our Terms of Service and Community Guidelines when they sign up to use YouTube. When users violate these policies repeatedly, like our policies against hate speech and harassment or our terms prohibiting circumvention of our enforcement measures, we terminate their accounts.

Despite having broken their guidelines as well, Jones wasn't banned on Twitter. Jones's app was also not banned from the Apple or Google app stores.

Given the support that Jones receives from some people in government (eg Trump or Cruz, just to name two), and the fact that he hasn't been banned from a number of sites, it's difficult to believe that there is a secret conspiracy that is competent and powerful enough to pressure Google, Facebook and Apple, but that has failed to pressure Twitter, all while staying completely in the shadows. This shadowy group would also have to have the power to enforce regulations on companies, something which is notoriously difficult to achieve. It's much more likely that these companies reacted to public pressure to not host hate speech.

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    This doesn't answer the question. The first 3/4s of your answer is basically irrelevant, because the justification given by these companies is obviously not going to explicitly admit to governmental influence. The last 1/4 is also not compelling. OP is not making reference to a "secret conspiracy". This is a strawman. He is referring to governmental "pressure". – user5904 Aug 11 '18 at 18:55
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In terms of regulating content... no, the US government does not tell the social media giants what they can and cannot do, as regards content.

One reason for this is... the Internet is largely unregulated, certainly in the US. It's not like a broadcast signal, where the US government sets regulations regarding content and requires licenses via the FCC. There are some regulations regarding commercial activities of Internet based media outlets, but really none regarding the publishing of content, other than libel laws.

The banning of Alex Jones appears to have been done on the initiative of the individual internet companies themselves. The stated reason being that he was engaging in 'hate speech', in violation of their terms of usage. The fact that more than one major social media site did this at about the same time can leave the impression that this action was coordinated, or at least discussed, among the management of those sites.

The irony is - they just handed a conspiracy theory looney a fortune in free publicity. If this was done for political purposes, it backfired badly.

The attention the banning has drawn may be a case of bad timing... not long after the degree to which those companies market people's personal information has been made public. Consequently, any action the big internet social media outlets take regarding individuals will now draw extreme scrutiny. As I search social media for the presence of official manifestos from two extremist groups on the far ends of the political spectrum: the virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church and antifa, I can't find anything that looks like an official presentation from either group, so their content may have been removed at a time when social media wasn't under such intensive scrutiny.

It also comes at a time when the very definition of 'hate speech' has also come under increased scrutiny. Sarah Jeong made a number of statements three years ago that qualify as racist hate speech, yet the NYT not only hired her, they put her on their editorial board. Nor was she banned from any of the commercial social media sites, or any of her content removed by them.

The implication is that hate speech isn't hate speech, if it is directed at one specific gender of one specific racial group. Which might suit some people... until another exception is introduced for a group they like, for equally vapid reasons.

  • Just an addendum, the U.S. Government regulates broadcast signals because they technically "own" the signals, and the TV and Radio companies license the right to use a specific frequencies to broadcast their content. Cable companies are not restricted in such a manner, hence why you can have HBO which has nudity. The production of shows usually complies with FCC across the board as a pitch for a show is made to multiple networks both broadcast and cable and are made to Broadcast restrictions just in case. This is to say nothing of in house rules of various cable companies. – hszmv Aug 13 '18 at 14:19
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The Federal Communications Commission has regulatory authority over "interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories" see About the FCC

The FCC's Mission The Federal Communications Commission regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. An independent U.S. government agency overseen by Congress, the Commission is the federal agency responsible for implementing and enforcing America’s communications law and regulations.

though the FCC does not regulatory authority over the content media companies publish, though people evidently think or believe the FCC does

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which oversees telecommunications like radio, TV, and the internet in the U.S., doesn’t regulate content on online platforms like YouTube. But that hasn’t stopped people from sending complaints about the video site to the federal agency

...

Gizmodo submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for all complaints that the FCC has received about YouTube. We received 81 pages of grievances featuring everyone from PizzaGate conspiracy theorists to anti-nudity crusaders. YouTube, which is owned by Google, has cracked down on extremist content in recent months, doing everything from removing ISIS propaganda videos to demonetizing conspiracy theory channels. YouTube has even banned neo-Nazi channels like Atomwaffen altogether.

There is no evidence to support the assertion that the FCC told YouTube, Facebook, Apple, or Spotify to ban the published content of Alex Jones.

In fact, the current Chair of the FCC has been critical of the fact that media companies have censored content, see FCC Chair Says Twitter and YouTube's Political Biases Are the Real Threat to an Open Internet

Would more Nazis and terrorists on social media make our internet more free?

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, speaking Tuesday at a panel on the “future of internet freedom,” asked and answered this question in staunchly libertarian terms, calling out YouTube, Facebook and Twitter’s purported double standards against conservatives and identifying them as the “actual threat” to the open internet. Pai’s critics say net neutrality repeal will lay the groundwork for ISPs to fragment and meter out the internet, but, speaking on a panel hosted by libertarian think tank, R Street Institute, Pai said Silicon Valley—wicked, liberal, Silicon Valley—already does this by promoting some viewpoints while suppressing others.

... “I love Twitter,” said Pai. “But when it comes to a free and open internet, Twitter is part of the problem. The company has a viewpoint and it uses that viewpoint to discriminate.”

...

“To say the least, the company appears to have a double standard when it comes to suspending or de-verifying conservative users accounts as opposed to those of liberal users,” said Pai. “This conduct is many things but it isn’t fighting for an open internet.”

Twitter’s recent verification kerfuffle, of course, began early in November when the company verified Jason Kessler, the organizer of the Charlottesville neo-Nazi rally. Realizing this is essentially an endorsement—verified users are rewarded with better security features and their tweets appear in more feeds—Twitter removed his verification and promised a more meritocratic system of verification, ultimately un-verifying Nazi-adjacent figures like Richard Spencer and “Baked Alaska.”

Of interest, YouTube says it uses "machine learning" to remove content

Machines are allowing us to flag content for review at scale, helping us remove millions of violative videos before they are ever viewed. And our investment in machine learning to help speed up removals is paying off across high-risk, low-volume areas (like violent extremism) and in high-volume areas (like spam). Highlights from the report -- reflecting data from October - December 2017 -- show:

  • We removed over 8 million videos from YouTube during these months.1 The majority of these 8 million videos were mostly spam or people attempting to upload adult content - and represent a fraction of a percent of YouTube’s total views during this time period.2
  • 6.7 million were first flagged for review by machines rather than humans
  • Of those 6.7 million videos, 76 percent were removed before they received a single view.

meaning humans employed by the company write the code which removes the videos. No, the government is not responsible for banning Alex Jones. Humans at those companies are responsible for banning or censoring the content of Alex Jones, to further their own political agendas and interests. If not challenged, the trend is moving towards a greater amount of content being not published in the first instance, defaced or removed based narrow political interests of those humans who run those companies.

It is fitting to close this answer with a brief synopsis of the Faurisson affair

The Faurisson affair was an academic controversy in the wake of a book by French scholar Robert Faurisson, a Holocaust denier. The scandal largely dealt with the inclusion of an essay by American linguist Noam Chomsky, entitled "Some Elementary Comments on the Rights of Freedom of Expression", as an introduction to Faurisson's book, without Chomsky's knowledge or approval. Responding to a request for comment in a climate of attacks on Faurisson, Chomsky defended Faurisson's right to express and publish his opinions on the grounds that freedom of speech must be extended to all viewpoints, no matter how unpopular or fallacious.

Chomsky, in the essay Some Elementary Comments on the Rights of Freedom of Expression

Let me add a final remark about Faurisson's alleged "anti-Semitism." Note first that even if Faurisson were to be a rabid anti-Semite and fanatic pro-Nazi -- such charges have been presented to me in private correspondence that it would be improper to cite in detail here -- this would have no bearing whatsoever on the legitimacy of the defense of his civil rights. On the contrary, it would make it all the more imperative to defend them since, once again, it has been a truism for years, indeed centuries, that it is precisely in the case of horrendous ideas that the right of free expression must be most vigorously defended; it is easy enough to defend free expression for those who require no such defense. Putting this central issue aside, is it true that Faurisson is an anti-Semite or a neo-Nazi? As noted earlier, I do not know his work very well. But from what I have read -- largely as a result of the nature of the attacks on him -- I find no evidence to support either conclusion. Nor do I find credible evidence in the material that I have read concerning him, either in the public record or in private correspondence. As far as I can determine, he is a relatively apolitical liberal of some sort.

In a response to a letter circa 1989–1991, Chomsky stated:

A professor of French literature was suspended from teaching on grounds that he could not be protected from violence, after privately printing pamphlets questioning the existence of gas chambers. He was then brought to trial for "falsification of History," and later condemned for this crime, the first time that a modern Western state openly affirmed the Stalinist-Nazi doctrine that the state will determine historical truth and punish deviation from it. Later he was beaten practically to death by Jewish terrorists. As of now, the European and other intellectuals have not expressed any opposition to these scandals; rather, they have sought to disguise their profound commitment to Stalinist-Nazi doctrine by following the same models, trying to divert attention with a flood of outrageous lies.12

In "His Right to Say It", published in The Nation, Chomsky stressed the conceptual distinction between endorsing someone's view and defending his right to say it:

Vidal-Naquet misunderstood a sentence in the petition that ran, "Since he began making his findings public, Professor Faurisson has been subject to...." The term "findings" is quite neutral. One can say, without contradiction: "He made his findings public and they were judged worthless, irrelevant, falsified...." The petition implied nothing about quality of Faurisson's work, which was irrelevant to the issues raised. [...]

I made it explicit that I would not discuss Faurisson's work, having only limited familiarity with it (and, frankly, little interest in it). Rather, I restricted myself to the civil-liberties issues and the implications of the fact that it was even necessary to recall Voltaire's famous words in a letter to M. le Riche: "I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write." [...] Many writers find it scandalous that I should support the right of free expression for Faurisson without carefully analyzing his work, a strange doctrine which, if adopted, would effectively block defense of civil rights for unpopular views. [...]

It seems to me something of a scandal that it is even necessary to debate these issues two centuries after Voltaire defended the right of free expression for views he detested. It is a poor service to the memory of the victims of the holocaust to adopt a central doctrine of their murderers.13

Of significance is Chomsky's regret in stating that his essay his essay Some Elementary Comments on the Rights of Freedom of Expression should not be used within a publication

Chomsky granted permission for the essay to be used for any purpose. Serge Thion and Pierre Guillaume then used it as a preface when publishing a book by Faurisson, without Chomsky's knowledge.9 Later Chomsky requested that the essay not be used in this manner, since he believed the French intellectual community was so incapable of understanding freedom of speech that it would only confuse them further, but his request came too late for the book to be changed.9 Chomsky subsequently said that asking for the preface to be removed is his one regret in the matter.

  • Alright, if you want to stick with 'facts' then I'd suggest studying up on the effects of 'more information'. "More information" is no more a good thing than it is a bad thing--especially when said information is full of errors, lies, and conspiracy theories--or even just from ill- and un-informed non-experts. Facebook has obviously been taken to task to reduce the amount of complete bs being spread on their network. This is just a part of that process. – user1530 Aug 11 '18 at 19:59
  • @blip You have not refuted any facts presented at the answer. Which is what the answer demonstrates. People get emotional when their beliefs are challenged. More information does provide a greater ability to make rational decisions. "good thing" and "bad thing" are entirely subjective terms. It is not clear what you mean by "errors, lies, and conspiracy theories" other than your own beliefs. – guest271314 Aug 11 '18 at 20:00
  • That's simply incorrect. There's all sorts of studies on this ranging from having to choose a brand of mustard to understanding complex political and economic concepts. People that have more information are by no means able to make more rational decisions if said information is faulty or misleading to begin with. – user1530 Aug 11 '18 at 20:08
  • @blip "all sorts of studies" does not mean the studies are correct in their premise. It depends on which questions are asked in any so-called "study". Your argument appears to be that you should be the arbiter of what information is published. Especially where the content is objectionable to you. If you agree with the content you say nothing. One of the major problems with this is the western academic push to claim the Ancient Egypt civilization as being European, or "white". That is ongoing as we speak. To challenge that premise requires challenging the entirety of western academia. – guest271314 Aug 11 '18 at 20:09
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    @guest271314 I am a moderator. Enforcing the rules of this community through censoring inappropriate content is part of my job description. – Philipp Aug 11 '18 at 20:22

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