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Follow-up to The Alex Jones Problem

Some larger, complicated questions we didn't get to.

Yeah, I know the story is over a week old, but readers are still writing in with thoughts on the subject.

So, when I wrote about the widespread delisting of the co Alex Jones’ podcasts in last week’s issue, I opted to deliver a straightforward summary of what happened, who’s involved, and Stitcher’s importance in the entire narrative. What I didn’t end up doing was sketch out a broader picture that includes some of the more complicated elements that are baked into the episode. These complicated elements are precisely what some readers have been writing in to emphasize.

Two elements, in particular, stood out:

(1) Regardless of how you feel about Alex Jones and his conspiracy theory-peddling media company Infowars (and for what it’s worth, I feel a great many negative things), some argued that this delisting episode is a distinct reminder of just how much podcast publishers, writ large, remain existentially dependent on platforms they do not control.

(2) The other issue pertains specifically to Apple, still believed to be the biggest podcast distribution platform in the industry at this writing: even though Apple Podcasts has delisted Jones’ programming from its search index and greater curatorial infrastructures, the platform can still nonetheless be used to consume those podcasts if listeners decide to manually insert Jones’ RSS feeds into the Apple Podcast app.

The question, as articulated by several readers: does Apple have a responsibility to block those feeds entirely?

I haven’t fully thought through the second point just yet, but as far as the first one goes: while I’m extremely sympathetic to apocalyptic worries about podcasting’s platform dependencies, I don’t think this is a relevant illustration of that problem. In my head, the fundamental issue with platform dependency, as a genre of Things To Worry About, lies either in (a) the operational reality of publishers ceding too much control over their audiences to an external platform and/or (b) the ever-present potential of an external platform acting in ways that directly or indirectly diminish the ability of publishers and creators to diversify their means of engaging with and deriving value from their audiences. This episode with Alex Jones is, first and foremost, a story about a publisher acting in bad faith, and how a platform, powerful and otherwise, steps up to enforce the contracts it sets up with its users. In any case, if there’s anything that Infowars actually tells us about platform dependencies, it’s the fact it’s a pretty diversified media operation.

That’s where I am with that — for now anyway. I have a feeling we’ll be back here again, sooner than later.