Yesterday, concerned cord-cutters expressed dismay about a new channel Roku allowed on its service: Infowars. This, of course, is the Alex Jones-controlled channel that has for years peddled conspiracy theories, such as that 9/11 was an inside job and that the Sandy Hook shooting was fake. Over the last six months, major digital platforms–including YouTube, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and others–all announced they were banning Jones and Infowars. Roku, it seems, didn’t get the memo. At least not until last night.
Following this news, many turned to social media to get Roku’s attention. At first, the company defended its view. In a statement to Digiday, Roku said, “While the vast majority of all streaming on our platform is mainstream entertainment, voices on all sides of an issue or cause are free to operate a channel. We do not curate or censor based on viewpoint.” The statement went on:
We are not promoting or being paid to distribute InfoWars. We do not have any commercial or advertising relationship with InfoWars.
While open to many voices, we have policies that prohibit the publication of content that is unlawful, incites illegal activities or violates third-party rights, among other things. If we determine a channel violates these policies, it will be removed. To our knowledge, InfoWars is not currently in violation of these content policies.
The backlash continued. The whistleblower Twitter account Sleeping Giants called it a “cynical move,” and even the attorney representing the Sandy Hook families made a public statement saying, “There is no amount of anticipated revenue that could possibly justify Roku’s calculated decision.”
Roku, now, has come to its senses and made an about-face. On Twitter last night, it said it would no longer support the Infowars channel:
After the InfoWars channel became available, we heard from concerned parties and have determined that the channel should be removed from our platform. Deletion from the channel store and platform has begun and will be completed shortly.
— Roku (@Roku) January 16, 2019
Though Infowars’ small yet loud cadre of defenders try to make this into a free speech issue, the truth is that platforms like Roku aren’t simply providing people like Jones the ability to speak but instead a way to monetize. The channel spent years promulgating falsehoods that ruined many peoples’ lives, and was able to make money off of it. No longer carrying such a network isn’t”silencing” a voice, but making the decision to not aid a business selling a deceptive and dangerous product. And, it should be said, this kind of de-platforming works.
We’ll see if Jones tries to weasel his way onto another platform, but it sure seems like most have made their decision.