Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey overrode staff recommendations last month and personally safeguarded continued Twitter access of notorious extreme right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.
Dorsey also did the same for white supremacist Richard Spencer, sources told the Journal. Spencer — who triggered Nazi salutes to his cries of “hail Trump” at a right-wing conference in Washington last year — was allowed back on Twitter after he was banned.
People like Jones and Spencer are at the heart of a furious debate over access to social media platforms as companies like Twitter and Facebook come under increasing pressure to police hate speech, lies, promotion of violence, threats and harassment that can touch millions of users.
Dorsey has vowed to better police Twitter. But a decision was made last month to allow Jones continued access to the powerful social media platform. Dorsey told a Journal source that’s because he overruled a staff recommendation to ban Jones from Twitter, the newspaper reported. Several Twitter workers were stunned by the decision and even complained about it in tweets, the Journal noted.
Jones, accounts linked to his Infowars podcasts or some of its content have been blocked by Apple’s iTunes, Facebook, YouTube, Spotify, Pinterest and LinkedIn. Companies have cited issues such as hate speech, harassment and promoting violence.
Spencer was also at risk of losing his access to Twitter, but Dorsey decided in 2016 that Spencer could keep a single account, sources told The Wall Street Journal.
Twitter has denied that Dorsey was personally involved in protecting the men’s continued access.
“Any suggestion that Jack made or overruled any of these decisions is completely and totally false,” Twitter’s chief legal officer, Vijaya Gadde, said in a statement to the Journal. “Our service can only operate fairly if it’s run through consistent application of our rules, rather than the personal views of any executive, including our CEO.”
Among the outrageous conspiracy theories promoted by Jones is his “Pizzagate” claim that Hillary Clinton and other Democratic Party members are running a child sex ring out of a Washington pizzeria. He has also said that the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut — in which a gunman killed 26 people, including 20 young children — was a hoax involving child actors. He has accused parents of the dead children of participating in a plot to strengthen gun control.
Dorsey insisted early last month that Jones wasn’t banned because he hadn’t violated company policies. Dorsey also said it was up to journalists to police Jones’ statements in the public sphere.
A week later, however, Twitter suspended Jones’ account for a week after he tweeted a link to a video calling for supporters to get their “battle rifles” ready against the media and others — in violation of Twitter rules against inciting violence.
Twitter’s decision to continue to allow Jones access appears to contradict a statement this year from Dorsey that Twitter was committed to increasing the “collective health, openness, and civility of public conversation.” He also said Twitter hasn’t “been proud of how people have taken advantage of our service, or our inability to address it fast enough.”
Dorsey and Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, will be questioned Wednesday along by the Senate Intelligence Committee about how foreign actors can use social media platforms to spread misinformation.
The House Commerce Committee will also question Dorsey later that day about how Twitter treats conservative perspectives.