According to JoAnne Sweeny, professor of law at the University of Louisville’s Louis D. Brandeis School of Law, the massive monetary damages awarded to the parents who lost children at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012 as part of a civil suit filed against Infowars founder Alex Jones should serve as a warning to several hosts on the Fox News network.
On Friday a jury added $45.2 million in punitive damages to the $4.1 million already awarded to parents Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis for the trauma Jones inflicted upon them by saying the school masacre was faked.
As Sweeny points out, the atmosphere for suing over blatant lies and accusations has changed and those who traffic in disinformation have been put on notice.
According to the legal expert, "This is not only a large blow to Jones, who has already filed for bankruptcy, but to other conspiracy-theory fomenters who fill their audiences’ heads with stories of the deep state, a stolen election and a child-sex ring in the basement of a pizza restaurant," with Sweeny adding, "Jones styles himself as a media broadcaster, and the media has historically been given a lot of latitude in publishing statements that are even partially false. That latitude has helped modern partisan news sites like Newsmax and Breitbart to use their platforms to spread outlandish theories with impunity."
Among those who are already looking at pricey legal repercussions is Fox News in a defamation suit brought by Dominion Voting Systems.
"Fox News is currently being sued for $1.6 billion by Dominion Voting Systems for Fox News’ claim that Dominion voting machines helped to rig the 2020 presidential election. The verdict against Jones should serve as a warning to the network and all the other conspiracy-peddlers out there. Repeating nonsense theories from 4chan or Reddit may not be protected free speech even if you attempt to disguise it as 'questioning known liars in the media," she wrote.
"The size of the verdict validates the strategy of going after conspiracy theorists on grounds of defamation. That’s significant because, though it has been argued that some of Jones’ activity crosses the line into outright criminal incitement, it’s much harder to make a case on that score," she added.
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