In the latest media pit stop, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sat down with NBC News' Lester Holt, where he defended the company's decision to put Infowars' Alex Jones under a seven-day timeout over an offensive tweet linking to a video in which Jones encourages his audience to "act on the enemy before they do a false flag," and to get "battle rifles" ready.
Dorsey said that despite calls to ban Jones last week amid a seemingly coordinated multi-platform blacklisting, he resisted until now.
“We can’t build a service that is subjective just to the whims of what we personally believe,” Dorsey told Holt, while saying he believes a suspension can be an effect deterrent which can change user behaviors.
“I feel any suspension, whether it be a permanent or a temporary one, makes someone think about their actions and their behaviors,” Dorsey added - though he admitted he has no idea if Jones' timeout will result in any changes in behavior.
EXCLUSIVE: Twitter CEO @jack Dorsey on Alex Jones’ "timeout":— NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt (@NBCNightlyNews) August 15, 2018
"Any suspension, whether it be a permanent one or a temporary one, makes someone think about their actions and behaviors."@lesterholtnbc has more tonight on @NBCNightlyNews. pic.twitter.com/QwUYjcYbAD
“Whether it works within this case to change some of those behaviors and change some of those actions, I don't know,” Dorsey said. “But this is consistent with how we enforce.”
Jones was banned or restricted from using the services of at least 10 tech companies this month, including Facebook and YouTube. Twitter had been the most high-profile holdout, until it announced on Tuesday that Jones was suspended from posting for seven days.
Dorsey later clarified on Twitter that he was "speaking broadly about our range of enforcement actions" with regards to the company's use of timeouts.
in a follow-up question on weighing the importance of Twitter’s rules versus its moral obligation, Dorsey said the company has “to put the safety of individuals first in every single thing that we do, and we need to enforce our rules and also evolve our rules around that.” -NBC News
"I don’t assume everyone will change their actions. Enforcement gets tougher with further reported violations," Dorsey said over Twitter.
To clarify: I was speaking broadly about our range of enforcement actions, when asked why we timeout functionality on Twitter. I don’t assume everyone will change their actions. Enforcement gets tougher with further reported violations. https://t.co/HMHbL1D8hm— jack (@jack) August 15, 2018
We have some evidence to show this does work. It won’t in every case. And we need to constantly evolve our enforcement actions. There will never be a perfect endpoint.— jack (@jack) August 15, 2018
As CNET first reported on Wednesday, Jones' account was put in "read only" mode and will be blocked from posting on Twitter for seven days because of an offending tweet, the company said. While Twitter declined to comment on the content that violated its policies, a Twitter spokesperson told CNN the content which prompted the suspension was a video published Tuesday in which he said, "now is time to act on the enemy before they do a false flag"
Dorsey also told Holt that "Election integrity is our first priority this year."
A big part of that effort has been combatting bots, which are automated accounts used to manipulate the discourse on Twitter. The company is using technology to fight back, and it is showing progress. Last month, Twitter said its technology was capable of identifying more than 9.9 million potential spam accounts per week and shutting them down.
Dorsey said the system is still being improved and noted that the company is considering other solutions as well. -NBC News
“We need to make sure that we are considering not just policy changes, but also product changes to help alleviate some of these concerns,” Dorsey said.
When Holt asked Dorsey if conservative rhetoric was more extreme than that from liberals, the Twitter CEO deflected - and instead said it was important to focus more on actions than words.
“We need to look at behaviors, when people are trying to shut down the voices of others,” Dorsey said. “People are trying to harass others. And that's independent of a viewpoint.”
Last week, Dorsey defended the company’s decision to not suspend Infowars and Jones from the platform, claiming they had not violated Twitter policies. As Apple removed links to some Infowars podcasts and YouTube terminated some of its channels, Twitter’s CEO Jack Dorsey said refused to follow in their footsteps:
“We’re going to hold Jones to the same standard we hold to every account, not taking one-off actions to make us feel good in the short term, and adding fuel to new conspiracy theories,” Dorsey said in a tweet last week. He later added that it was critical that journalists “document, validate and refute” accounts like those of Mr. Jones, which “can often sensationalize issues and spread unsubstantiated rumors.”
Still, after a CNN report identifying numerous past tweets from Infowars and Jones that did violate Twitter’s rules, those posts were deleted. Tweets by Infowars and Jones deleted last week included posts attacking transgender and Muslim people; a claim that the 2012 shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School was a hoax perpetrated by “crisis actors”; and a video calling David Hogg, a survivor of the Parkland, Fla., high-school shooting, a Nazi.
Dorsey finally caved overnight, with a "temporary suspension", which will likely become permanent upon Jones' next violation.
As Rolling Stone notes, while Jones and his sympathizers have cried censorship following the actions of YouTube, Facebook, Apple and others, internet-content platforms specifically reserve the right to suspend users or delete content found to violate of their guidelines — indeed, Infowars’ own terms of service includes such a provision.
Twitter’s crackdown came more than a week after technology companies, including Apple, YouTube and Facebook removed content from Jones and his site, Infowars. As the WSJ notes, the actions against Infowars intensified a growing debate over what role tech companies play in policing controversial content on their platforms while they simultaneously support the principle of free speech.
It is unclear if the ongoing censorship of Alex Jones is having the desired effect: as we noted over the weekend, Silicon Valley's coordinated purge of all things Infowars from social media has had an unexpected result; website traffic to Infowars.com has soared in the past week, according to Amazon's website ranking service Alexa.