Why not expect the arrival of Alex Jones to stop the lie

If it weren’t so sad, Alex Jones defamation trial may have been catalyzed.

Mr. Jones, the additional conspiracy theorist, was ordered to pay more than $45 million in damages to Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the parents of a 6-year-old murdered in a 2012 mass shooting at the school Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The jury’s verdict came after Mr Jones was found guilty of smearing Mr Heslin and Ms Lewis, who for years were falsely accused of being crisis agents in a “flag” operation wrong” conspired by the government.

For victims of Mr Jones’ harassment campaigns, and those who have followed his career for years, the sentence seems long overdue – a notorious internet villain is finally here. face real consequences for his actions. The families of the children killed at Sandy Hook, many of whom waited years to see Mr Jones pay for his lies, were certainly relieved.

But before we celebrate Mr. Jones’ arrival, we should admit that the verdict against him is unlikely to have much effect on the phenomenon he represents: empire-building fanatics profit communication system with easy-to-exploit lies.

Jones’ loudspeaker has shrunk in recent years – thanks in part to decisions by tech platforms like Facebook and Twitter to ban him from their services. But his reach is still substantial and he has more influence than you might think.

Court records shows Mr. Jones’ Infowars store, which sells questionable performance-enhancing supplements and survival gear, made more than $165 million between 2015 and 2018. Despite his downturn, Mr. Jones still appears as a guest on popular podcasts and YouTube show, and millions of Americans still look at him as, if not a reliable chronicle of current events, at least an odd diversion. (And one rich man, an expert witness in the trial, estimated the net worth of Mr Jones and Free Speech Systems, his parent company, at between $135 million and $270 million.)

In the coming weeks, Mr. Jones – a conductor of martyrdom – will surely turn his court defeat into hours of entertainment, all of which will generate more attention. , more subscribers, more money.

But a bigger reason for caution is that, whether or not Mr Jones is still enriching himself personally with his lies, his stick is everywhere these days.

Jones’ influence can be seen and heard on Capitol Hill, where attention-seeking Republican politicians often look like they’re auditioning for positions on Infowars. When Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, suggested that a mass shooting might have been staged to convince Republicans to support gun control measures, as she did in Facebook post about the 4th of July shooting in Highland Park, Ill., she’s playing hits from the following catalog by Mr. Jones. Mr. Jones also played a role in prompting the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, in ways that we are still learning. (The House committee investigating the uprising was Request a copy Among the text messages from Mr. Jones’ phone were mistakenly sent to the attorneys representing the plaintiffs in the defamation lawsuit against him.)

You can also see Mr. Jones’ influence in the right-wing media. When Tucker Carlson arouse the fears of the nationalists on his Fox News show or when the Newsmax host shoots weird conspiracy theory about Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, to kill Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, it’s proof that Infowars’ DNA has entered the conservative bloodstream.

Even outside of politics, Mr. Jones’ rounded, discreet style has influenced the way a new generation of conspiracy theorists seek fame online.

These creators are not talking about leprechaun and gay frog, as Mr. Jones did. But they are taking from the same TV book with no data. Some of them focus on softer topics – like health influencers recently went viral for suggesting that Lyme disease is a “gift” caused by intergalactic space matter, or as Shane Dawson, a popular YouTube creator who has racked up hundreds of millions of views with Conspiracy theory documentary in which he credibly tests claims like “Chuck E. Cheese reuses leftover pizza” and “Wildfires are caused by direct energy weapons.”

Some elements of leftist and centrist discourse are also indebted to Mr. Jones. The “Red Scare” podcast, popular with the “left-wing” anti-popular crowd, interviewed Mr. Jones and share some overlapping interests. Much of the news and analysis on the legal battle between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, which Social media dominates This summer, there’s a bit of a Jonesian tint. Even Joe Rogan, the popular podcast host (who hosted Mr. Jones on his show and has protect him as “fun” and “entertaining”), borrowed some of the Infowars founder’s paranoia about connecting the dots in argumentativeFor example, the Covid-19 vaccine can change your genes.

It would be too simple to blame (or credit) Mr. Jones for inspiring the entire modern crankhere. But it’s safe to say that many of today’s top conspiracy theorists have found the same sweet spot of lies and entertainment value. It’s also possible that we’ve become sensitive to conspiracy theories and the many outrageous lies that have gotten Mr Jones in trouble – such as the allegations about Sandy Hook’s parents at the heart of the trial. defame him – sounds less shocking if uttered today.

Other conspiracy theorists are less likely to appear in court than Mr. Jones, in part because they have learned from his mistakes. Instead of outright accusing the families of mass shooting victims of doing everything, they adopt a naive, “question only” posture while puncturing holes in the official narrative. When attacking an enemy, they tiptoe to the spot where the slander is located, being careful not to do anything that could get them sued or banned from social media. And when spearheading harassment campaigns, they choose their targets wisely – often malicious public figures rather than private citizens, which gives them broader speech protections. under the First Amendment.

That’s not to say there won’t be more lawsuits, or attempts to hold conspiracy theorists accountable. Fox News, for one, is face a defamation lawsuit from the Dominion Election System, claiming that the network knowingly made false statements about voter fraud during the 2020 election.

But these cases are the exception, not the rule. The truth is that today’s media ecosystem is awash with Infowars-style conspiracy theories – from the History Channel showing about ancient aliens building the Egyptian pyramids to TikTok thought by yoga moms out. Wayfair is selling trafficked children – and it is not clear that our legal system can, or even should, attempt to prevent them.

Social media companies can help limit the spread of harmful lies by making it harder for scammers to attract larger audiences. But they have their own limitations, including the simple fact that conspiracy theorists have become increasingly sophisticated at evading their rules. If you insist that Bigfoot is real, attention-seeking spinners will simply get their millions of views by posting that Bigfoot. maybe are real, and their audience would be wise to do their own research to find out what Bigfoot-related secrets the backcountry team is hiding.

For this new, more sophisticated generation of propagandists and reactionaries, Mr. Jones is an inspiration to rise to the highest heights of the profession. But he’s also a cautionary tale – about what can happen when you push too many boundaries, tell too many easy lies, and refuse to back down.

Mr. Jones is not done facing the music yet. Two other lawsuits brought against him by members of Sandy Hook’s family are still pending, and he could face millions of dollars more in damages.

Yet even with Jones’ career ruined, his legacy of brazen, unrepentant dishonesty will live on – in a way, bolstered by his knowledge of politics See how far you can push a lie before the consequences hit.

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