Alex Jones' nonsensical rants and conspiracy theories about the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting have been touted across his social media and website Infowars for the past decade. Many of his past conspiracy theories have been comically outrageous. The theories are so out of the ordinary that it is easy to believe they are merely a joke or so outlandish that nobody could take him seriously. It's hard to understand how someone would believe his conspiracy that the government controls the weather and puts chemicals in the water to turn frogs gay. Still, Jones' lies went from outrageous to dangerous in 2012 when he began to spread harmful lies about the Sandy Hook shooting.
Alex Jones took to his podcast to claim that the shooting was a hoax and that the parents were crisis actors whose children never existed. This conspiracy was born from the belief that the Democratic party set up a fake shooting in an attempt to take away people's guns. The victims' families found that not only did Jones viewers take these outlandish stories and claims seriously, but they also took matters into their own hands. While grieving the loss of their children, the families simultaneously suffered a ten-year harassment campaign from the viewers of Jones.
On top of the loss they have already faced, eight victims' families received death threats, rape threats, and constant harassment from fans of Jones. The lawyer for the victims' families, Christopher Mattei, told jurors, "Every single one of these families (was) drowning in grief, and Alex Jones put his foot right on top of them." In the courtroom, Jones shook his head at parent testimony, physically demonstrating his lack of remorse and responsibility for the pain he had caused the families.
Jones had been getting away with defaming the victims and the families for the past decade, with no massive repercussions until the recent trial in Waterbury, Connecticut. The massacre victims' families were finally given a sense of comfort on October 12th when the verdict resulted in Jones owing nearly 1 billion dollars for legal fees and the damage he had caused to the families. It came with excitement and relief that Jones would have to pay for the pain he had caused them for so long.
Though it is a relief to the families that Jones will be unable to continue his smear campaign targeting their tragedy, it is unlikely that they will see most of the money owed to them. It is unclear how much Jones can afford to pay them, as he claimed to the court that he could only pay $2 million maximum to the families. However, it is suspected that he could be worth as much as 270 million dollars from the brand deals he made through Infowars and donations from fans during which he victimized the Sandy Hook families. The likelihood of the families being fairly compensated is unknown for now, and as it seems, they will not be. The lack of compensation begs the question of whether the families really got the justice they sought for their children. The public condemnation of Jones could be enough, but does it even matter if the families are not compensated for the harassment they have experienced?
Jones's company filed for bankruptcy protection in April of this year, delaying the trial by months. Then again, filing for bankruptcy halfway through the trial as soon as it had become clear to him that he would most likely have to pay at least 150 million dollars to the families. Mattei had said, "Just two days before jury selection is due to begin in Connecticut, Mr. Jones has once again fled like a coward to bankruptcy court in a transparent attempt to delay facing the families that he has spent years hurting." He had been delaying facing the families he had harmed, as he had consistently shown his cowardly behavior towards the families for the entire trial. From shaking his head and outwardly refuting the victims' family's testimonies to avoiding questions with silence or denial, he showed a complete lack of empathy and disdain for the families he had insulted.
The verdict of this trial has raised questions of how it will affect other right conspirators and how far free speech over social media can go before it becomes a legal matter. Jones had gone on Infowars and other social media platforms for over a decade before being banned in 2018 but had faced no legal responsibility for his harmful actions until now. Jones finally being reprimanded after the staggering length of time in which he was able to get away with the intentional damage he caused to the families begs the question of how far future situations like this could go. When celebrities and politicians spread hateful speech online, it normalizes others to engage and normalize that behavior and social media sites have finally begun to crack down. With Trump being recently subpoenaed by the January 6th committee, conspiracies from the right are being taken seriously more than ever before in combination with Jones' trial.
The result of this trial in favor of the families affected will hopefully set a precedent for social media personalities to warn that defamatory content comes with consequences. It also warns social media companies about who can and should not be allowed on their platforms. Suppose the different social media sites had banned Jones earlier. In that case, it could have prevented years of harassment against the victims' families, and these platforms watching the behavior of their users and taking action is an absolute necessity. Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube let Jones have a place on their sites for many years, even after he had been consistently spreading his conspiracy theories. Before his ban, these social media sites had not taken action to prevent further defamation against the Sandy Hook families. It was a controversial move that they had chosen to keep him on their platform. Free speech is a common defense against social media sites taking down harmful speech, but there is a fine line between blatant harassment that insights violence and free speech. There is a sense of entitlement on social media sites to be candid and honest. Still, when it is harmful and defamatory information seen as "just an opinion," it is dangerous for that person to continue to lie and endanger others on the platform.
Since Jones was banned from Twitter, social media sites have become much quicker at refusing and suspending users for harmful speech. Both Trump and Kanye West have been partially banned for inflammatory and offensive Tweets: Trump for January 6th-related tweets and Kanye for blatantly anti-Semitic tweets. Whether it's the controversy and pressure put on social media platforms or a genuine breaking of guidelines of their rules, they have become more efficient at removing users, even celebrities, who put out offensive content.
The hefty penalty Alex Jones faced for his defamation and harassment of the victim's families will set an expectation in the future for both Jones and other conspirators that free speech has its limits. Harassment and slander often go unpunished online. In Alex Jones' situation, he took advantage of how much he had been getting away with online to harm the victims' families for financial gain. Hopefully, this case will lead to a cutback in social media sites allowing hateful information to be spread on their platforms. Content on social media that is simply slander and hate-inciting allowed this situation to go on for over a decade, and hiding behind the transparent shield of freedom of speech will hopefully never go this far again. The Sandy Hook victims' families can hopefully take some solace in that Jones will not be able to continue the harassment campaign against them, though the financial sums they are owed may never be fully seen.