August 15, 2018 6:00 pm
Alex Jones’ channels on YouTube and Facebook were shrinking for months before the panicky provocateur ultimately was shut down on the sites.
Jones, who is infamous for his frenzied political rants online, had been losing views since 2016, when he peaked with about 125 million monthly views in November, coinciding with the presidential election. In July of this year, the number of views on his videos was down to about 25 million, according to Tubular Labs, which tracks social media metrics.
The pressure on his audience size came as Facebook tuned its algorithm to show people more posts from their friends and family and fewer from media and web celebrities. At the same time, Facebook was trying to restrict the spread of disinformation, the kind that flooded the service during the 2016 election. Jones often falls under the category of inaccurate information, and sometimes outright deliberate disinformation.
The growth rate of Jones’ followers on the platforms also declined since 2016, according to Tubular’s stats on his main Facebook and YouTube channels. Jones added about 20,000 followers last month, down from 200,000 in November 2016.
“The platforms clearly were trying to reduce his impact,” says John Cassillo, digital media analyst at Fabric Media and TV[R]EV. “Jones was a volume guy, and you could see his strategy evolve as he tried to offset being nerfed by them.” (“Nerfing” is a video game design term for reducing the effectiveness of a tactic.)
Alex Jones’ monthly views peaked in November 2016, then tapered off dramatically, according to Tubular Labs.
Jones posted more videos daily to make up for the diminished view counts on individual videos, Cassillo says.
Still, last month’s 25 million views and 20,000 new followers would be big numbers for Jones today. YouTube and Facebook this month took punitive measures against Jones, determining that several of his videos included hate speech against transgender people and Muslims, and citing other policy violations as well.
YouTube first suspended Jones from livestreaming his InfoWars show for 30 days, and then took his channel down completely when it found him trying to circumvent the punishment by streaming on alternate channels. Now, any mention of Jones appears to trigger YouTube censors, and anyone trying to stream his show is subject to a warning.
Last week, Facebook removed four of Jones’ pages and punished him personally, removing his ability to participate in the service for 30 days—he couldn’t like, share or comment on anything on Facebook, and he couldn’t set up a new page. However, InfoWars is back on Facebook through a new channel called InfoWars Stream, the new main page for his presence on the social network.
Alex Jones’ growth in followers every month declined, too.
That channel now has 6,000 followers, and amassed more than 250,000 views on all its videos in its first 10 days online.
The page doesn’t disclose the name of the people who manage it, but it appears to be tied to Jones, who did not respond to requests for comment about the new page.
Jones fans are slowly starting to find the new page. “I didn’t really care to watch him on Facebook,” says David Stephen Wisniewski, who follows the new InfoWars Stream page. “I liked watching him on YouTube better, but couldn’t find the channel one day.”
Wisniewski, 30, from Glendale, Arizona, says he is familiar with Facebook’s policies; he says he had a pro-pot page taken down for alleged violations.
“This entire topic is very concerning, because people like being able to have discussions,” Wisniewski says. “There is a group of people who just want everything their way, but I don’t see a reason to even be on these social media platforms anymore if you’re not able have a free market of ideas flowing through.”
As for hate speech, Wisniewski says the Constitution protects all speech and that defining hate speech is is hard because it’s subjective. “‘I hate the Packers’ is hate speech,” Wisniewski says, comparing criticizing a football team to hate speech against different races and religions.
Jones has been playing up his role in the center of the debate about online speech, and claims that the tech companies conspired with China to take him down. “They are using me as the example to go after everyone,” Jones said during his show on Monday.
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