Twitter said Thursday it had "permanently suspended" conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his website, Infowars, for sharing a series of tweets and videos that violate its policies against abuse, including verbal attacks on a reporter that Jones live-streamed outside of a congressional hearing the day before.
For Twitter's part, its decision came a day after the company’s chief executive, Jack Dorsey, testified to lawmakers about the tech giant's practices for moderating content online. Before the hearing began, Jones and his followers surrounded Oliver Darcy, a reporter at CNN who has covered Infowars. In a video broadcast over Periscope, the live-streaming site owned by Twitter, Jones called Darcy a "charlatan" and a "congenital liar," and said that CNN a "giant fraud."
Earlier in the day, Jones also chased after Dorsey himself, and he got into a verbal spat with Republican Sen. Marco Rubio while the GOP lawmaker held a press conference. “You are literally like a little gangster thug," Jones said to Rubio.
Asked about the incidents, Twitter said Thursday that Jones’s attacks on Darcy was one of a series of incidents brought to its attention in the last 24 hours that violated its rules. Going forward, Twitter said it would now review "other accounts potentially associated with @RealAlexJones or @infowars and will take action if content that violates our rules is reported or if other accounts are utilized in an attempt to circumvent their ban."
“As we continue to increase transparency around our rules and enforcement actions, we wanted to be open about this action given the broad interest in this case,” Twitter added. “We do not typically comment on enforcement actions we take against individual accounts, for their privacy.”
A spokesman for InfoWars did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. But InfoWars quickly published a post deriding Twitter. "This is what happens when you confront your censor," it said.
Twitter's ban marks a dramatic departure from its approach roughly a month ago, when it initially chose to allow InfoWars and Jones to continue tweeting even as other major tech companies -- like Apple, Facebook and Google-owned YouTube -- instituted bans and suspensions in response to his conspiracy-minded content. In the past, Jones had attacked the victims of the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and he's previously claimed that the government is responsible for September 11. Twitter, in contrast, said Jones at that point simply had not violated its rules.
"We’ll enforce if he does," Dorsey tweeted on August 6. Days later, Twitter slapped Jones with a "time out" for threatening violence against users.
The move is likely to inflame the increasingly heated debate over the role that Twitter and other tech giants should play in policing content online. Some would like to see Facebook, Google, Twitter and their counterparts take a heavier hand to stop hate speech, harassment and other digital ills. Others have encouraged them against inhibiting free speech. And still others, particularly Republicans, have alleged that tech companies' policies have resulted in censorship that unfairly targets conservatives.
Those charges prompted House Republicans to summon Dorsey, Twitter's chief executive, for the hearing yesterday. Responding to lawmakers, Dorsey stressed: "Impartiality is our guiding principle.”