September 7, 2018: Alex Jones app removed from App Store
Following removal from Apple Podcasts, Facebook Pages, and YouTube, and much more recently, Twitter, Apple has added the App Store to the list of Platforms where Alex Jones and InfoWars are no longer welcome.
A day after being banned from Twitter, Alex Jones and Infowars have been booted from yet another platform: Apple's popular App Store. As of Friday evening, searches on the App Store for Infowars return no results.
Apple confirmed the app's removal to BuzzFeed News, but declined comment, pointing to its App Store Review Guidelines. The company said Infowars would not be permitted to return to the App Store.
No word from Apple on why, or why Apple waited until Twitter took action against Jones to follow through on the App Store. Also no word on when or if Google will undertake similar action on the Play Store.
Apple Podcasts, one of the largest and most popular podcast directory service on the planet, has de-listed four out of five of Alex Jones's Infowars shows — not just specific episodes but the entire shows — for violating the terms of service against hate speech.
In a statement Sunday evening to BuzzFeed News, Apple confirmed that it notified Jones of the decision to remove the five shows under its hate speech guidelines earlier this weekend. "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," a company spokesperson said. "Podcasts that violate these guidelines are removed from our directory making them no longer searchable or available for download or streaming. We believe in representing a wide range of views, so long as people are respectful to those with differing opinions."
Spotify, Facebook, and YouTube have followed Apple's lead. Twitter and Twitter-owned Periscope have not.
last 6 months I've had dozens of convos w/ ppl at YT & FB. most have taken principled stands about why this channel had to remain up. They suggested those pressuring to remove the page didn't understand nuances of moderation. Funny how that all evaporated after Apple took action! https://t.co/2lT6BBC1Kc— Charlie Warzel (@cwarzel) August 6, 2018
If you're not familiar with them or didn't realize Apple had content guidelines for the podcast directory, here's the iTunes Partner FAQ:
Podcasts, and content linked from podcasts, cannot contain any of the following:
- Password protection
- Use of explicit language in the podcast when the
tag is not set to "yes"
- Explicit or self-censored explicit language in podcast titles, subtitles, or descriptions
- References to illegal drugs, profanity, or violence in the podcast title, description, or artwork
- Content that could be construed as racist, misogynist, or homophobic
- Content depicting graphic sex, violence, gore, illegal drugs, or hate themes
- Third-party trademarks or content without authorization or usage rights
- The words "Apple Music," "Podcasts app," "iTunes Store," "iTunes," or "Apple Inc."
- Content which is irrelevant or spam
- iTunes Store logo, Apple logo, Apple Podcasts logo, or the term "Exclusive" without prior authorization from Apple
Basically, in order to have a podcast, you have to have an RSS — really simple syndication — feed, and you have to submit that feed to Apple. Apple glances at it and if it blatantly violates the guidelines, it gets rejected. But, if people complain to Apple about the content in a podcast, Apple will also investigate those complaints and similarly reject — aka de-list — shows that are found to be in violation.
Individuals can still add those shows manually to their own Apple Podcasts app by going to Library > Edit > Add Podcast by URL… and pasting in the RSS, but they won't be suggested, listed, or otherwise marketed by Apple.
YouTube told BuzzFeed News that "when users violate" the platform's terms and policies "repeatedly, like our policies against hate speech and harassment of our terms prohibiting circumvention of our enforcement measures, we terminate their accounts."
Facebook, in a press release, said:
We believe in giving people a voice, but we also want everyone using Facebook to feel safe. It's why we have Community Standards and remove anything that violates them, including hate speech that attacks or dehumanizes others. Earlier today, we removed four Pages belonging to Alex Jones for repeatedly posting content over the past several days that breaks those Community Standards.
Apple didn't remove all the shows. One still remains, and Apple hasn't commented on why that is.
Nor have Apple or Google removed the Infowars app from the App Store or Google Play Store respectively. That app provides full access to the same and more content than the podcasts. Neither Apple nor Google have commented on why those apps remain, despite appearing to violate very similar content policies as Apple Podcasts and YouTube.
Amid mounting public pressure to address Jones' hate speech, Apple's Tim Cook and Eddy Cue met over the weekend and decided to pull five of Jones' podcasts from their platform, sources familiar with the matter told me.
Cook and Cue decided to let Jones' InfoWars app remain available in the app store because they felt it did not run afoul of their policy.
Reaction has been mixed and, as expected, extreme. On one end you have people still upset it took so long to get the shows removed and livid that the apps remain. On the other, you have people who believe it sets a dangerous precedent that will inevitably be used to restrict ideas on the world's biggest platforms.
There's also been a lot of sensationalism thrown around, and a lot of misunderstanding.
First, that Apple, Google, Facebook, etc. don't already moderate content. They absolutely do and always have.
Porn is perhaps the clearest example. Most of the major platforms won't host or list porn on their servers or in their directories.
People will argue about the lines between art and nudity and porn, about why male nipples aren't removed when female nipples are, or complain about photos of breastfeeding or become indignant at those who complain, but most reasonable people and platforms accept that there is a line when it crosses over into porn and that's not something they want to host or see on the networks.
The same is true for other content types that violate the standards and policies of the platform.
Second, that this is somehow a freedom of speech issue. It isn't. There's no freedom of speech on someone else's dime.
Apple, Google, Facebook, etc. aren't countries or governments. They're companies. Every publisher and every store has the freedom to set its own content policy, as long as it doesn't violate the law.
That means, as much as it makes me personally heartbroken, NPR is under no obligation to air my dog bark theater, BBC my Babylon 5 Puppets reboot, or the National Post my Cooking With Dirt column. Tears, I know.
No one here is being denied freedom of speech. They're being denied free marketing. They can still set up and pay for their own distribution platforms, if that's what they want to do.
Third, that this is censorship of any kind.
To be clear, Facebook not publishing tushies is another example of standards and policies, not censorship. For it to be censorship, a government would have to force Facebook to remove tushies and bar them from future tushie-publishing. That would be censorship and still not by Facebook but by the government compelling Facebook.
Now, some will argue that Apple, Google, and Facebook are so enormous that they have become an oligarchy that controls most content distribution on the planet and should be treated as a de factor country when it comes to issues like freedom of speech and censorship.
Or, alternatively, that the U.S. governments elected representatives should decide rather than the companies boards of directors and executives.
The second part is ridiculous simply because it's yet another example of people forgetting that there are more countries in the world than the U.S., and we've seen what happens when China, for example, starts exercising content control over internet companies.
The first part could be argued but doing so after years of content moderation — and worse, years of abuse like running psyops on its users and Cambridge Analytica scandals — sounds kind of like cherry picking a symptom long after the patient died of the disease.
Here's my take: I'm deeply concerned about how much influence and control the major internet megacorporations have over our information and our lives, but this isn't that.
But, yeah, I'm going there — with awesome power comes awesome responsibility — and I'd be more worried if, like Twitter, these companies were all feeding us to the collective wolves.
Lines should be broad but they should be clear. Policies should be consistent but they should be transparent.
Reasonable people can agree on reasonable limits. We already do. Every day. On everything from what's a crime to what's not to what's porn and what's not. We can agree on a line here to, and we can debate it with intelligence and passion to make sure it covers enough, but just enough, and never gets pushed back or pushed forward for our collective peril.
Because, ultimately, we are all in this together, and we're all we have.
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