Alex Jones says he’s being silenced – but he isn’t shutting up and you can still listen to him.
The right wing provocateur’s Infowars was banished from most of the web’s farthest-reaching platforms this week – sending him scrambling to find other ways to get his message out, and appealing to Donald Trump for a rescue from the companies he casts as big tech villains.
Facebook and Youtube took down Jones’ pages on Monday, citing violations of their rules, and Apple and Spotify removed his podcasts.
In addition to far right politics, Jones has peddled conspiracy theories blaming the government for the September 11 attacks and claiming the Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax.
But the removals did nothing to diminish Jones’ prolific posting. He continued to churn out one video after another on his website, app, and Twitter, where he has not been banned. But, while Infowars is still operating, experts say its reach has been greatly reduced.
“This has potentially a massive effect on the reach of Infowars and the political power of Alex Jones,” said Daniel Kreiss, a professor at the school of media and journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “This significantly limits Infowars’ visibility in the public sphere.”
Jones is urging his followers to come straight to his website – “the one platform that they CAN’T ban”, he tweeted – and plugging his app’s rise to the number one “trending” app on the Google Play store.
And he’s leaning increasingly on alternative platforms that have sprung up in reaction to mainstream sites’ prohibitions on content they view as hateful or offensive.
There’s Gab.ai, a Twitter-style site that brands itself “the free speech social network” and claims 500,000 users, and Real.Video, a YouTube alternative whose founder said it saw 350 new channels created in one day after the Infowars bans.
Mike Adams, who founded Real.Video after his own channel was banned by YouTube, urged supporters to boycott mainstream platforms.
“It’s going to get much worse if we don’t stop them,” he said in a video on his site. “The tech giants have now declared war on America…This has become the civil rights issue of our time.”
Despite their growth, these alternative sites cater to a niche audience whose size pales in comparison to the platforms that banished Infowars.
“It’s really hard to imagine there being an alternate social media network that comes anywhere close to having the same scale and scope as a Facebook,” Kreiss said.
“It is the de facto public sphere in a lot of ways. It is the one thing that everyone is on. People from all walks of life, all demographics, all ideological persuasions,” he said. “There is simply no alternative to that.”
Jones’ channel on YouTube, which had 2.4 million subscribers, was one of the most recommended on the site, according to an analysis by researchers Jonas Keiser and Adrian Rauchfleisch. Once the page was gone, Fox News became the most recommended channel in far right and conspiracy circles, they found.
Jared Holt, a researcher with Right Wing Watch at People for the American Way who has pushed to get Jones’ pages removed, said the bans will make the casual internet user far less likely to come upon Infowars.
“Infowars has existed for decades and has built its own distribution networks, so for the most dedicated Infowars fans this is merely an annoyance,” he said. “But the greater effect this has is that Alex Jones and Infowars cannot distribute these kinds of vitriolic conspiracy theories and smears as easily to the general American public.”
In videos posted since the removals, Jones has alternated between bravado and desperation.
“I am not backing down,” he said in one video, though he acknowledged feeling “spiritual-level desperation” and seemed to see Trump as his only hope to regain his larger platform.
“Come out before the midterms and make censorship the big issue,” Jones said in an appeal to Trump.
“It’s the right thing to do, Mr President. It’s the truth,” he said.
So far, Trump has not ridden to the rescue.