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Tech companies' ban on Infowars fuels conspiracy-theory market

Right-wing site's app gets jump in attention after Google, Facebook, Apple purge its videos, podcasts

New York

JUST days after Google, Facebook and Apple purged videos and podcasts from the right-wing conspiracy site Infowars from their sites, the Infowars app has become one of the hottest in the country.

On Wednesday, Infowars was the No 1 overall "trending" app on the Google Play store, a metric that reflects its sudden momentum.

Among news apps, Infowars was No 3 on Apple and No 5 on Google, above all mainstream news organisations. And the app stood at No 66 overall on Google, excluding game apps, while on Apple it reached No 49, above popular apps like LinkedIn, Google Docs and eBay.

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The Infowars app, which includes news articles and the shows of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, had likely been downloaded a few hundred to a few thousand times a day on average after its introduction last month, said Randy Nelson, head of mobile insights at Sensor Tower, which tracks app data. Now, it is likely getting 30,000 to 40,000 downloads a day, Mr Nelson estimated based on its ranking.

The surge suggests the tech industry's recent action against Infowars has drawn new interest to the fringe outlet and the conspiracy theories it peddles.

"This is such a niche app with niche content, that for it to make that sort of jump means it has become very interesting to a much broader audience," said Jonathan Kay, a co-founder of Apptopia, an app analytics firm.

Still, the action by the tech companies very likely reduced the overall audience for Infowars because it had relied so much on viewers from Apple, Facebook and YouTube, a unit of Google.

That the Infowars app has also thrived on Apple's and Google's app stores just days after the companies removed its content from other parts of their sites highlights the confusing nature of the tech companies' rules and their enforcement of them.

Banned yet allowed

Apple banned five of the six Infowars podcasts from its popular podcasts service on Sunday, saying it "does not tolerate hate speech". Yet the Infowars app that Apple has deemed acceptable for its app store after a review is essentially a portal to some of the same podcasts Apple removed.

The Infowars app streams live and rebroadcasts the most recent episodes of three shows, The Alex Jones Show, War Room with Owen Shroyer, and Real News with David Knight.

Apple removed The Alex Jones Show and War Room from its podcast service; it left Real News. An Apple spokesman said in a statement that the company works to curate its app store.

Google said it deleted Jones' channel from its YouTube site because he flouted a previous punishment - not necessarily for the content he posted. Google has since left up Jones' podcast and his Infowars app.

Google said it has different policies for YouTube and its Play Store.

From July 12 through Sunday, the Infowars app ranked on average as the 23rd most popular news app on Apple and 32nd on Google, according to Apptopia. After Sunday, the app's rank among news apps on Apple jumped to 7th on Monday, 4th on Tuesday and 3rd on Wednesday, Apptopia said. The rankings were slightly lower on Google for those days.

Researchers from Apptopia and Sensor Tower said Apple and Google use a number of signals to determine rankings, including the velocity of downloads and total downloads, but they are secretive about the exact formula.

Jones has achieved infamy and financial success for spreading lies, such as that many mass shootings are government hoaxes and Democrats run a global child-sex ring. Many of his most outlandish claims are made during his show, which runs live for four hours each weekday and is streamed and rebroadcast across the Internet.

YouTube, Facebook, Spotify and Apple's podcasts service were all important distribution points for the show, but Jones and his Infowars colleagues this week have urged viewers to find the show on Infowars' website and app. He and Infowars did not respond to requests for comment.

Highly partisan

The Infowars app has three main tabs: one for the shows, one for news articles and a third for merchandise.

On the tab that led to the outlet's news articles, a sampling of the app's articles on Wednesday showed a mix of headlines that ranged from highly partisan ("Democrats Blame Russians For Ohio Loss, Turn On The Green Party!") to sensationalist ("Shock: FDA Acquiring 'Fresh' Aborted Baby Parts to Make 'Humanized Mice'") to humdrum ("Calorie Counting Menus Help Diners Lose One Pound Over Three Years - Study").

The merchandise tab on the app pushes people to buy Infowars goods like T-shirts and male-vitality pills.

One ad on the app showed a photo of Jones with "censored" tape over his mouth and said: "Fight the bullies, save the internet, save Infowars super special. Shop now!" The app has earned a nearly perfect rating on Apple after 5,500 reviews. NYTIMES