Voldemort, Alex Jones, and My Facebook Account

Thinking about social media bias.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |


For those who've been waiting (and maybe hoping) that I'd be suspended from Facebook after I linked to infowars.com, we have an answer.

I began the experiment when a guy named Brandon Straka, leader of the conservative #WalkAway initiative, announced that he had been given a 30-day account suspension for linking from Facebook to his upcoming interview on infowars. I couldn't believe Facebook was banning people for mentioning Alex Jones or his site, so I decided to put my own account at risk by doing the same. (If I were Cory Booker, I'd call it my "I am Spartacus" moment. But I'm not.)

A few hours later, with Straka getting a lot of clicks for his complaint, Facebook rescinded the ban, calling it a mistake. Straka claims Facebook didn't tell him the ban was lifted but did tell a hostile journalist, who then wrote a snarky article about the incident.

So that's where things stand. Facebook's messages to Straka clearly show that his link to infowars triggered a 30-day suspension. Then the suspension was quickly reversed. Why? Presumably, whoever pulled the plug on Straka was overruled. But we don't know who issued the ban, or who lifted it, or why. Facebook apparently hasn't said anything publicly.

Lessons? First, now that being censored on social media is a surefire way to win conservative clicks, it's fair to assume that claims of censorship will proliferate, and not all of them will be true. Second, that doesn't mean they're all false, either. When it comes to the right, Silicon Valley almost certainly suffers from what the Valley used to call "epistemic closure" before the Valley embraced it. In that climate, "Sorry, mistake" isn't likely to mollify anyone.

So the right has good reason for its suspicion, and no way to get good evidence that might rebut it. To see if Alex Jones had indeed been turned into Voldemort, I had to put my Facebook account—and a bit of my reputation—at risk. And even then, the fact that my account stayed up might simply show that the censors saw it as a trap that they were smart enough to avoid.

Bottom line: conservative concern about platform bias will continue to grow, and only radical transparency about platform standards and due process is likely to address that concern.