His podcasts were removed from Apple and Spotify. He was banned from YouTube and Facebook. So Infowars host Alex Jones, suddenly shut out from most major social media platforms, began expanding his content on lesser-utilized services. Earlier this month, on Twitter—one of the few heavy hitters that hasn’t taken long-term action on Jones’s accounts—he started directing people toward the company’s slimly-utilized page on social blogging site Tumblr.
Tumblr has a reputation as a different beast from the other social networks listed in the tweet from Infowars. Other services have policies around harassment, hate speech, or other kinds of speech, but Tumblr’s stated rules are more laissez-faire. Users are asked not to publish direct threats of violence, but otherwise, their rules read, “If you encounter negative speech that doesn’t rise to the level of violence or threats of violence, we encourage you to dismantle negative speech through argument rather than censorship.”
Infowars’ Adan Salazar says that the Tweet directing people to Tumblr was a joke, but on their face, it would seem as though Tumblr’s policy would make Tumblr a comfortable home for Jones. As Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has been debating with users for several weeks whether Jones’s account violates the company’s terms of service, that’s wouldn’t seem to be a concern on Tumblr. But not long after the company began more actively using its previously-dormant Tumblr page, Salazar says that the company removed them from the service, too.
Infowars opponents on Tumblr took credit for the end of the company’s page on the site—but not because they believed that, as users on Facebook, YouTube, and other platforms did, they managed to appeal to the hosts of those sites and prove that Jones’s company had violated their terms of service. Rather, they became convinced that Infowars self-deleted the page after a targeted spam/harassment campaign intended to make the platform a hostile environment, using the same site rules that made it potentially hospitable to the conspiracy theory site. The blog JustSomeAntifas summarized what she believed happened: “alex jones made a tumblr because he knew tumblr wouldn’t kick him off, and they didnt… but what alex jones wasn’t prepared for was the fact that because this website is so lawless we can endlessly harass him ourselves… and so he deleted.”
Salazar sent Texas Monthly screen shots indicating that the account was banned by Tumblr, with a statement from the company that the termination would be final because “We do not allow malicious speech on Tumblr.”
The woman who runs the JustSomeAntifas account, a student named Monique Thebo, explained why she believed Infowars deleted the page. “On Twitter, you get banned for swearing at someone,” she said. “On Tumblr, you don’t get banned unless the literal federal government demands Tumblr remove people. The exact environment that allowed for Alex Jones to still exist on a social media website was the one that allowed for the account’s demise.” That’s not what happened, according to the messages Salazar forwarded from Tumblr. (“If that’s true, does that mean someone in the government wanted us removed? Would be big if true, but unlikely,” he said.) But it does reveal that the dynamics on Tumblr are different from what its users seem to believe they are.
In the messages that Salazar forwarded to Texas Monthly, Tumblr didn’t indicate any specific posts that violated the site’s policies. According to Thebo, though, people within her community on Tumblr weren’t looking for them, anyway. Instead, she says, they used the platform to send “relatively horrific asks, submissions, etc.” to the account’s inbox, along with “nonsensical spam like transcripts to The Room” (the B-movie that inspired the 2017 James Franco film The Disaster Artist). “None of that is against Tumblr’s rules and regulations, and even if it were, Tumblr staff would never make a move to delete that many people off their website.”
That may be true—but based on the fact that the site did delete Infowars’ account, the idea that Tumblr is quite as free-wheeling and lawless as its users believe may be overblown. Thebo believes that, despite the site’s reputation for being a safe haven for social justice-minded users, the group is actually a “very active and very loud” minority on the site—and that Infowars would have found a sizable audience on the site.
“That would have been nice,” Salazar said, “but we couldn’t ‘stick it out’ because we were banned.”