Alex Jones has been banned from Facebook for almost two years, yet his wild and baseless allegations that helped foment the insurrection at the Capitol were seen by hundreds of thousands of Facebook users in the weeks leading up to Jan. 6.
Research from digital rights group Avaaz published Thursday morning and shared exclusively with VICE News shows that in the 30 days leading up to the riots, content from Jones’ websites, promoting voter fraud claims telling fans to “prepare for war,” amassed over 1.1 million interactions across Facebook.
Jones’ show Infowars was banned by Facebook in 2018, and the conspiracy theorist had his personal account removed in May 2019 along with a slew of far-right extremists and white supremacists, including Milo Yiannopolous, Laura Loomer, and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.
Jones attended and played an important role in organizing the Jan. 6 rally that preceded the insurrection. He pledged $50,000 in “seed money” to help organize the rally and on the day, prior to the storming of the Capitol, Jones addressed attendees, repeating lies about voter fraud and a stolen election. He’s currently under investigation by the Justice Department and FBI for his alleged role in the Capitol breach.
Despite the bans in place against him and his website, it wasn’t difficult to find Jones’ content on Facebook.
In total, Avaaz researchers found 583 public posts that shared content from Jones’ own domains—InfoWars and Banned.video—in the 30-day period prior to the Capitol riots.
Of these, 198 posts advanced claims of widespread voter fraud and/or promoted the Jan. 6 rally.
These posts linked to a total of 95 unique articles from Jones’ domains and garnered 1,181,893 interactions across Facebook. The articles claimed that former President Donald Trump was the “true leader” and that the election was rigged, fraudulent, and stolen. They also often used war-like rhetoric when urging readers to travel to Washington, D.C.
“It’s just confirmed...the epicness that we’re about to see in D.C. this week,” Owen Shroyer, an InfoWars personality, said in a video the day before the riots. A link to the video was posted on Facebook. “We’re going into occupied enemy territory folks. Washington D.C. is occupied enemy territory. Now, don’t look at that as a turn-off not to go; look at that as a reason to get to D.C. to take our country back.”
Avaaz identified five groups and pages who were serial sharers of Jones’ content, including a group called “Patriots for Trump” and another called “Friends of Alex Jones.”
Facebook did label the majority of the posts boosting claims of election fraud and those promoting the Jan. 6 rally, but it applied the wrong label, Avaaz found.
For example, in the majority of these posts (120 out of 158 posts) Facebook applied a label with an unrelated fact check debunking claims of link between pregnancy miscarriages and the COVID-19 vaccine.
“It's just preposterous, but, sadly, not shocking, that Facebook, one of the most powerful companies in the world, is still failing to enforce its own policies to protect users from the harmful content shared by Alex Jones, despite having banned him over two years ago,” Fadi Quran, campaign director at Avaaz, told VICE News.
Facebook told VICE News that it was still reviewing the Avaaz findings, with a spokesperson saying the company will “remove InfoWars content that violates our policies and while our enforcement isn’t perfect we're always working to improve it. We will take action against any of this content that breaks our rules.”
But it’s clear that the company has the ability to block this type of content when it wants to.
In fact, just this week Facebook made the decision to remove a video posted by Trump’s daughter-in-law showing her interview with the former president. Facebook said the video was removed because “content posted on Facebook and Instagram in the voice of President Trump is not currently allowed,” following his ban from the platforms.
And last year, the company imposed a ban on all links to the Natural News website, a major vector of anti-vaxx and COVID-19 misinformation.
“Let’s be clear: Facebook banned Jones for ‘promoting or engaging in violence and hate,’ yet our research shows his content garnered over 1 million interactions in just the month leading up to the insurrection,” Quran said. “If Congress needs any more evidence to confirm that Facebook will not effectively protect Americans unless it is regulated, this example should be enough.”