On Friday, Google removed the Infowars Android app from its Play Store, extinguishing one of the last mainstream strongholds of infamous conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. The takedown on the heels of a video, posted in the Infowars app last week and viewed by WIRED, in which Jones disputed the need for social distancing, shelter in place, and quarantine efforts meant to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Google confirmed to WIRED that it removed the app on Friday. The app had more than 100,000 downloads according to Google Play’s published metrics, and was rated “E10+,” meaning safe for all users 10 and older. The Infowars app sold products like supplements and protein powder, broadcast The Alex Jones Show live, and posted videos and articles from Jones and others.
“Now more than ever, combating misinformation on the Play Store is a top priority for the team,” a Google spokesperson told WIRED. “When we find apps that violate Play policy by distributing misleading or harmful information, we remove them from the store.”
Alex Jones and Infowars did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In the video in question, Jones said that “everybody dies under the new world order except maybe one tenth of one percent that believe they’re going to merge with machines and have made deals with this inter-dimensional thing that gave them all the technology … You can’t make a deal with these aliens, OK, that the Bible tells you about and ever get off the planet.” Elsewhere in the video, Jones claims that natural antivirals exist to treat the novel coronavirus.
Google is far from the first tech giant to block or ban Infowars content. In fact, Google-owned YouTube suspended The Alex Jones Channel in August 2018, after mounting pressure from critics that platforms should enforce their anti-hate speech policies. Facebook took action against several Jones-operated pages that same day, as did Twitter with Infowars-related accounts the next month. Facebook instituted a full ban of Alex Jones and Infowars content across all of its platforms in May 2019. Apple’s iOS App Store, Google Play’s main competitor, already banned the Infowars app more than a year ago during the late summer 2018 blitz.
In the wake of all the mainstream bans, Jones and his supporters have repeatedly maintained that blocking Infowars and Jones’ content only spreads it farther and makes it more popular. But research indicates that so-called “deplatforming” actions do effectively reduce the spread of hate speech, misinformation, and conspiracy theories. The bigger question is why Google waited so long to take action against Infowars given that its peer organizations did so a year and a half ago.
Tech services and social networks have long touted their role as defenders of free speech. But rampant abuse, misinformation, and coordinated disinformation campaigns carried out by nation states on the platforms have brought the industry to a new understanding in recent years of its necessary role in policing violent and dangerous content. The industry has also specifically moved to crack down on misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic in the last few weeks. A joint statement from Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Reddit, Twitter, and YouTube last week said that the companies are pledging to help “millions of people stay connected while also jointly combating fraud and misinformation about the virus.”
Jones has received other public pushback as well for his claims about the spread and treatment of Covid-19. Earlier this month, New York attorney general Letitia James sent him a cease and desist notice for saying in videos and on the Infowars website that his DNA Force Plus supplements, Superblue toothpaste, and SilverSol gargle could protect against or treat the novel Coronavirus.
“As the coronavirus continues to pose serious risks to public health, Alex Jones has spewed outright lies and has profited off of New Yorkers’ anxieties,” attorney general James said in a statement. “Mr. Jones’ public platform has not only given him a microphone to shout inflammatory rhetoric, but his latest mistruths are incredibly dangerous and pose a serious threat to the public health of New Yorkers and individuals across the nation.”
Seemingly in response, Infowars now lists a disclaimer alongside these products emphasizing that they do not cure, treat, prevent, or mitigate any disease, including Covid-19.
In addition to being blocked on Google Play, Jones had a tough week in other arenas as well. On Wednesday, he lost an appeal in a defamation case about his claims related to the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting. Jones will have to pay $20,000 more in legal fees, combined with $150,000 he already owes, and the case hasn’t even gone to trial yet.
Jones could make changes and attempt to resubmit the Infowars app to the Play Store, but given that so many other large tech platforms have banned his content permanently, the app review process might prove challenging.
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