Roku late Tuesday announced that after initially approving an InfoWars channel on its system, it instead would not provide a platform to the conspiracy-peddling digital child of Alex Jones. InfoWars — whose claim to fame includes more-than suggesting that the Sandy Hook school shooting (in which 20 elementary-age children and six adults were shot to death) was a hoax and an "inside job — already has been banned from most major services — Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Spotify, Stitcher, Apple, Pinterest, YouPorn, LinkedIn, MailChimp and Vimeo, by last count from TechCrunch.
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
What, then, was Roku thinking approving such a channel in the first place? While anyone can develop and distribute a "channel" (think app, really) on the Roku platform, it's still Roku's platform. They own it. They approve what goes on it through the public channels. In 2017 Roku cracked down on non-certified channels in an attempt to rid the platform of porn and piracy. (Not that you can ever get rid of either of those things, but no company has to provide a platform for them, either.)
Roku is not a town square. It's not a government-owned public space. It has no more duty to provide a home for hate-spewing grifters than you do to allow them on your front porch. It basically can allow whatever it wants, so long as it's legal.
That doesn't mean it has to, though. And it doesn't mean it should.
Nobody's stopping anyone from saying anything — they're just not lending it their voice.
Tuesday's brouhaha ultimately will be short-lived and shouldn't be much more than an internet dust-up. A relatively minor PR problem that certainly could have (and should have) been avoided in the first place. The InfoWars channel should have been flagged in the approval process. And if it was flagged, someone made a serious error by thinking Roku would somehow be immune to any backlash and be some sort of beacon of free speech in a world in which speech from InfoWars has been rightly deemed unacceptable.
The initial tweet that awakened the activist "Sleeping Giants" was another obvious blunder.
The initial official response of "We do not curate or censor based on viewpoint" was yet another misstep. Such hedging is no longer acceptable to consumers when viewpoints are laden with hate and mistruths and arguments in bad faith. (And Sleeping Giants has had a pretty big hand in that.)
The final statement of "we heard from concerned parties and have determined that the channel should be removed from our platform" doesn't absolve Roku here. It ultimately did the right thing, and it did so in relatively short order. But it shouldn't have had to do so in the first place.
InfoWars isn't the hill Roku — or anyone these days, really — wants to die on. But when a company finds itself atop that hill with the likes of Alex Jones, it needs to remember that it likely did something to find itself there in the first place, whether it was by actively inviting hatred into its home, or by failing to keep it out.
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