Alex Jones vs. Big Tech: Silicon Valley Did the Right Thing the Wrong Way

August 7, 2018, 1:49 PM UTC

The tech industry finally did the right thing and pulled the plug on conspiracy loon Alex Jones. Sites like Facebook and YouTube announced Jones, who has accused the U.S. government of backing 9/11, no longer has a place on their platform.

The decision is a welcome one in part because Jones’s “news” channel Infowars has contaminated our media and political discourse with paranoia and stupidity. Likewise, Jones deserves to be flushed because he inflects harm on his targets—most notably the grieving parents of the Sandy Hook massacre, who have faced a harassment campaign from Jones supporters who claim their children’s death was a hoax.

Unfortunately, the tech companies did themselves no favors in how they handled the Jones file. Instead of booting him over any number of outrages in recent years, the likes of Facebook, Spotify, and YouTube all waited until Apple—which removed Jones from its podcast library last weekend—went first, and then followed suit.

This played into the hands of Jones and far-right media outlets who are now shrieking of a conspiracy by Big Tech to silence critics of the government. While no such conspiracy exists, of course, the optics aren’t great and underscore the monopoly power Silicon Valley wields over media. Likewise, Facebook and others failed to offer a clear explanation for booting Jones. Instead of simply stating, “We have decided to exercise our First Amendment right to ban Jones because he is a liar who exploits grieving parents,” the companies made murky claims about “community policies” and hate speech—claims that tech critics will pounce on as arbitrary and inconsistent.

Jones, meanwhile, continues to prove himself a tech savvy propagandist. In response to his ouster from YouTube and Facebook, he took to Twitter’s Periscope platform to broadcast the perceived conspiracy against him. He has also benefited from inconsistencies in the tech companies own policies. In the case of Apple, for instance, his podcasts are gone but his popular InfoWars app remains available in the App Store.

The upshot is that the big companies need a clearer message and a sounder strategy if they want to rid themselves of the forces that have made their platforms so toxic. If they fail to do this, Jones will have lost a battle, but will be poised to win the war.

(A version of this essay appeared in Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the top tech news. To get it delivered daily to your in-box, sign up here.)

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