RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Twitter has permanently suspended conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his Infowars channel from its platform. Infowars famously promoted the fraudulent idea that the Sandy Hook shooting was faked. It took Twitter a month longer to ban Jones than it did Apple, Facebook, YouTube, even Pinterest, who all barred Jones last month. Washington Post technology policy reporter Tony Romm is with us now to talk about this. Hey, Tony.
TONY ROMM: Hey, thanks for having me.
MARTIN: So Alex Jones has said a whole lot of very offensive things over the years, trafficked in hate speech and conspiracy theories. Many of these have transpired on Twitter. What was it that finally got him banned from this particular platform?
ROMM: Yeah, Twitter said that Jones and Infowars simply crossed the line. And when Twitter announced this in a series of tweets yesterday, it didn't point to a specific thing that Jones and Infowars had done over the better part of the past 24 hours. But it wasn't the first time that he had violated the rules. And when I spoke with somebody at Twitter, they said one thing that weighed very heavily on them was the way that Jones conducted himself outside of a congressional hearing where Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was testifying about the way that the company moderates content online. Jones essentially went after Republican Senator Marco Rubio, interrupted one of his press conferences. He yelled at Dorsey at one point as he was trying to leave the building. And then he livestreamed an incident where he was attacking a CNN reporter, hurling verbal insults on him. That video was broadcast on Periscope, which is the livestreaming site owned by Twitter. And so in the minds of the company, it essentially was too much. He had gone too far, and so they kicked him off the site.
MARTIN: Interesting, although you mentioned that video was streamed on Periscope. A lot of this was happening IRL, right?
MARTIN: Like, in real life, not even on the Twitter platform. And they're, like, still, this has to stop.
ROMM: Yeah, it has to stop. And Twitter has talked about this in the past. That it definitely thinks about content in real life, the things you do off the site, when it makes decisions about how to handle your content on the site - because Twitter recognizes that if you're promoting harassment, if you're spreading hate speech, it's the sort of thing that could affect real users. It could have a serious impact on them and their health and their safety. And in the past, Twitter has yelled at Jones for precisely this behavior. The last time that he got in trouble at the end of August, Twitter imposed a seven-day suspension because Jones took to a video and said that he encouraged his supporters to take up, quote, "battle rifles" against journalists and people on the left and some of his very critics. That to Twitter was a threat of violence. It's the sort of thing that the company has been under pressure to clamp down on.
MARTIN: And these are the kinds of things that Jack Dorsey was presented with when he was testifying. He's being called to account for the things that transpire on his site. He was answering questions from lawmakers on the Hill. Let's play a clip of what he had to say.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JACK DORSEY: We're truly proud of helping to increase the accessibility and velocity of a simple, free and open exchange. We aren't proud of how that free and open exchange has been weaponized and used to distract and divide people and our nation.
MARTIN: That's a new recognition for Twitter, to acknowledge that the platform was being abused. They are under pressure to make changes because if they don't, Congress is probably going to step in.
ROMM: Yeah, Dorsey sees the nastiness on there. And when I spoke with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey just a few weeks ago, he said that the company is rethinking the very core of the product - the way it displays everything from follower counts to the like button - to try to think about the kinds of behaviors, good and bad, that the site itself incentivizes. But you're right. This is the sort of thing that lawmakers are beginning to demand companies, like Twitter and its peers like Facebook and Google, begin to take seriously. And if they don't, they face the threat of regulation. And while we don't know exactly what that would look like - if you're a tech company, the one thing you don't want is more regulation.
MARTIN: Right. And you probably don't want to have to come up to Capitol Hill and wear a suit jacket again either.
MARTIN: Tony Romm of The Washington Post, thanks so much. We appreciate it.
ROMM: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.