Several big technology companies including Apple Inc. AAPL 2.00% and YouTube removed links to content from the controversial far-right website Infowars, deepening the debate over how internet platforms should handle divisive or offensive content.
Apple said it eliminated access to five Infowars podcasts, including “The Alex Jones Show,” from its directory over the weekend, saying they didn’t comply with guidelines designed to create a safe environment for users, including prohibitions on “hate themes.” The Infowars podcast “RealNews with David Knight” remained available Monday.
The “Infowars Official” and “Alex Jones Radio” apps also were still available for download on Apple’s app store. Those apps list Infowars Magazine as their developer.
Eliminating easy access to Infowars podcasts marks a rare, prominent foray for Apple into an issue confronting many major internet companies: how to remove hateful or conspiratorial messages from their platforms without infringing on free speech. Twitter Inc., Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube have all grappled with the issue in the wake of events such as the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla., this year.
Infowars, a site that frequently promotes conspiracy theories, and its host Alex Jones have often been at the center of the debate over controversial content. Earlier this year, parents of two children killed in the 2012 Newtown, Conn., elementary-school shooting massacre sued Mr. Jones, saying he repeatedly called the shooting fake and accused them of taking part in a hoax designed to generate calls for gun-control measures. Mr. Jones described the lawsuit as frivolous.
YouTube said Monday that it terminated channels related to Infowars. A YouTube spokeswoman said the decision came after InfoWars was found to be attempting to circumvent a suspension put in place last month for posting videos that violated policies against child endangerment and hate speech.
Spotify Technology SA said Monday it had also removed “The Alex Jones Show” from its platform because of violations of the company’s content policies.
Facebook also said Monday it removed four pages linked to Infowars and Mr. Jones for what it described as “repeated violations” of its policy against hate speech and content glorifying violence. That follows Facebook’s decision in July to ban Mr. Jones from its platform for 30 days for posting comments that violated policies governing hate speech and bullying.
Mr. Jones, in an audio recording posted from his Twitter account, defended Infowars, calling the removal of its content a violation of the First Amendment and saying the site “knows the truth.”
Infowars didn’t respond to a request for comment. BuzzFeed earlier reported Apple had removed Infowars podcast links.
Apple doesn’t host podcasts. Instead, podcast creators host the media files and submit a podcast feed for inclusion in Apple’s iTunes Store podcast directory. That makes the podcast easier to find on one of the 1.3 billion Apple devices world-wide. When podcasts that don’t comply with Apple’s rules are removed from its directory, they are no longer searchable or available for download or streaming.
Apple didn’t specify what part of Infowars’ content violated its rules.
The tech giant “does not tolerate hate speech” and has “clear guidelines that creators and developers must follow to ensure we provide a safe environment for all of our users,” Apple said in a written statement. “We believe in representing a wide range of views, so long as people are respectful to those with differing opinions.”
Apple doesn’t review podcasts’ content before adding them to the directory. However, its podcast guidelines forbid: racist, misogynist or homophobic content; references to profanity, violence or illegal drugs; and content depicting graphic sex, violence, gore or hate themes.
If users alert Apple to a podcast that violates those guidelines, the company says it reviews the podcast and removes it if necessary.
Facebook on Monday offered more detail about how it enforces its standards. The company said pages that break its standards accumulate strikes that can lead to temporary or permanent suspension. Facebook said it wouldn’t detail how many strikes cause a suspension because it doesn’t want people trying to “game the system.”
The company also said pages that have been “unpublished,” such as Infowars, have the ability to appeal “in case we made a mistake.” If the page owners don’t appeal, or lose the appeal, the page is removed permanently, Facebook said.
—Douglas MacMillan and Sam Schechner contributed to this article.
Write to Tripp Mickle at Tripp.Mickle@wsj.com
Appeared in the August 7, 2018, print edition as 'Apple, Others Delete Links to Infowars.'