Apple’s decision to remove podcasts by fringe conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and Infowars was personally approved by Apple CEO Tim Cook and SVP Eddy Cue, CNN’s Oliver Darcy and Dylan Byers report (via 9to5Mac), but the executives deliberately left Infowars’ app in the iOS App Store. While Apple’s podcast ban inspired several other tech companies to follow suit, it also led to a spike in downloads for the Infowars app, which now ranks fourth in the News category for iPhones.
The CNN report says that “sources familiar” with Apple’s decision confirmed that Cook and Cue met over the weekend, ultimately deciding to pull five of six Infowars-related podcasts from the company’s podcast directory. In a subsequent statement, Apple explained that it was pulling the podcasts for containing hate speech.
Apple does not tolerate hate speech, and we have clear guidelines that creators and developers must follow to ensure we provide a safe environment for all of our users. Podcasts that violate these guidelines are removed from our directory making them no longer searchable or available for download or streaming. We believe in representing a wide range of views, so long as people are respectful to those with differing opinions.
Facebook and Spotify followed soon thereafter by banning certain Infowars pages and podcasts, respectively, and Google’s YouTube shut off the Infowars video channel later in the day. CNN suggests that the various tech companies’ decisions to block Infowars were not coordinated, but instead have been ad hoc and vague, and are in desperate need of a consistent approach.
As our own Anna Hensel notes today, the Infowars bans were also slow, requiring numerous violations of community standards and policies over the course of many months. Tech companies “shouldn’t be afraid to ban prominent, repeated violators of their community standards,” she says, and “need to do a better job of enforcing their existing terms of service.”
Those words ring particularly true based on Apple’s decision to remove Infowars podcasts while leaving the Infowars app in place. According to the CNN report, Cook and Cue decided to keep offering the app in the App Store “because they felt that it did not run afoul of their policy.” It’s unclear how the app — which streams the same content previously found in Apple’s podcast directory, as well as containing additional, reinforcing content — wouldn’t violate the company’s policies. Unless it is removed from the popular App Store, the app will continue to spread the same messages found in the podcasts, and then some.