Facebook isn’t done with Alex Jones just yet.
Facebook has removed 22 Pages that the company says are connected to Alex Jones, the outspoken founder of the conspiracy-theory website Infowars.
You may remember that Facebook banned four Pages run by Jones and Infowars back in August — other tech companies like Twitter and Spotify did as well. Now Facebook says it’s removing more accounts as a result of a policy change it announced in late January.
The policy Facebook is pointing to here is its “recidivism policy,” which bans users who are removed from Facebook from making new accounts or Pages that are similar in name or appearance to the Page that was removed. In other words, when Jones’s Pages were banned in August, he couldn’t simply create a new “Alex Jones” Page and start over.
Until January, that policy only applied to newly created accounts, Facebook said. Which means that while Jones couldn’t necessarily create a new Page that looked similar to the one that was suspended, he could still use existing Pages that looked similar to those that Facebook suspended.
Now Facebook says it’s closing that loophole — and removing 22 Alex Jones-related Pages in the process.
“We updated this policy because we saw people working to get around our previous recidivism policy by using existing Pages that they already manage for the same purpose as the Page we had removed for violating our Community Standards,” a Facebook spokesperson explained in an email to Recode on Tuesday.
These Pages didn’t necessarily share posts or videos that violated Facebook’s content policies. Instead, Facebook says it can now remove these Pages for simply having “similar titles to the Pages we unpublished and [for] having the same admins,” the Facebook spokesperson added.
All 22 Pages Facebook removed Tuesday share admins with four Jones-related Pages Facebook removed in August.
The company’s decision to remove those four Pages was a big deal, in part because CEO Mark Zuckerberg had said just a few weeks earlier that he didn’t think Infowars should be banned. It put Facebook in the middle of a hotly contested debate that tech platforms have been part of for years: How should Facebook balance policing its platform for harmful content while also supporting free speech?
Jones will likely claim that he’s being censored, which was the case last fall when Facebook removed his Pages. But he also spreads dangerous rumors — he’s well known for claiming that the Sandy Hook shooting tragedy was a hoax — and his Pages were originally suspended for “glorifying violence” and for “using dehumanizing language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims and immigrants.”
Facebook’s policies are complicated, though, and have led to some confusion. Facebook bans Pages or accounts once they’ve accumulated a certain number of “strikes” against them, but, to keep people from gaming the system, the company doesn’t share how many strikes that is.
The result is that Facebook temporarily banned Jones’s personal account last summer because he was an admin on a number of the official InfoWars pages. But Jones was personally suspended before the Pages themselves were suspended. Now those Pages are long gone, but Jones’s personal account is active again.
It’s an example of how murky and complicated these enforcement policies can be, and why Republican politicians routinely accuse Facebook of bias against conservative viewpoints. (A lot of people disagree.)
Jones’s Pages will be suspended indefinitely, though he will be able to appeal the decision, a Facebook spokesperson confirmed.