SAN FRANCISCO – Desperate for some good press, Facebook announced Thursday it had designated Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos, and other right-wing extremists as “dangerous” and would jettison them from Facebook and Instagram, which is owned by the social media giant.
Playing catch-up with other platforms, Facebook added to its banned list Laura Loomer, who already had been banned by Twitter, PayPal, GoFundMe and Venmo.
Facebook’s list includes Paul Joseph Watson, and Paul Nehlen, the white supremacist who ran for Congress as a Republican from Wisconsin’s 1st congressional district in 2016 and 2018. Here too Facebook is playing catch-up, Nehlen having been banned by Twitter more than a year ago.
Also on the list: Nation Of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, known for anti-Semitic rhetoric.
Alex Jones, speaking by phone from Austin, Texas, called Facebook’s action “authoritarian” and said he learned about it by seeing a headline on the Drudge Report. Facebook provided no direct notice, he said, and provided no evidence to him that he was “dangerous,” as the company has alleged.
“It’s a bizarre political stunt, and they’re trying to hide their censorship of conservatives by mixing in Louis Farrakhan,” Jones told the Washington Post.
He added, “I’m not really worried about me. I’m worried about how authoritarian this is… I guess free speech in America is dangerous. It’s comical.”
Yiannopoulos, in a text exchange with The Washington Post, said that efforts to squelch voices seen as extreme can lead to a broader crackdown on free expression. “Read Orwell,” Yiannopoulos texted, invoking George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. “You’re next.”
Facebook previous said it had banned Jones and his InfoWars back in 2018. Jones, maybe best know for accusing children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School of being actors, found a home on Instagram, which Wired magazine wrote recently had become the favorite social network of Russian misinformation specialists at Internet Research Agency.
The company said it would ban the official accounts maintained by those people on its new list, and also would remove any pages or accounts created to represent them.
“We’ve always banned individuals or organizations that promote or engage in violence and hate, regardless of ideology,” a Facebook rep insisted in a statement.
The bans were welcomed by civil rights activists, who have long argued that these individuals espouse violent and hateful views and that Silicon Valley companies should not allow their platforms to become a vehicle for spreading them.
Madihha Ahussain, special counsel for anti-Muslim bigotry with the advocacy group Muslim Advocates, said that individuals like Loomer, Jones and Yiannopoulos have used social media platforms to broadcast dangerous hate speech and conspiracies targeting Muslims, Jews and others.
Facebook recently announced a redesign of the platform focusing on “Groups,” in an effort it promises is going to give users more private spaces. NBC’s Brandy Zadrozny, however, reported Facebook is “using people’s understandable anger over the company playing fast and loose with their personal data to push a ‘privacy’ focus which is just a fancy way to hide the other big problem on the platform and evade journalists and watchdogs.”
Last month, Facebook admitted millions of Instagram users’ passwords were stored in a readable format on its servers, not tens of thousands as it initially announced. Facebook revealed the far worse information in an updated blog post, saying “Since this post was published, we discovered additional logs of Instagram passwords being stored in a readable format.”
The social media giant is under investigation by numerous government agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice, for its data collection and privacy practices.
In April, the company said it has incurred a loss of between $3 billion-$5 billion from a federal probe into its data use practices.