This verdict is the second in a series of three lawsuits filed against the right-wing conspiracist, according to ABC News.
Amanda J. Crawford, assistant professor of journalism at the University of Connecticut, explained that Alex Jones had been spreading “rampant misinformation and conspiracy theories” that the school shooting was a hoax since it occurred in 2012.
“He began flirting with that and speculating that it could be a false flag on day one,” Crawford said in a telephone interview.
Crawford said the plaintiffs of the civil case were family members of students, teachers and the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School, as well as an FBI agent, who have been harmed by the false content Jones has shared over the last decade.
According to Crawford, the conspiracy theorist’s social media channels and website, Infowars, “gave this giant platform to people who were making really horrendous allegations.”
The victims’ families faced threats and harassment from Jones’ followers for years following the shooting, according to the AP. Crawford explained that Jones’ conspiracy theories are not protected by law because they are untrue and harmful.
“Opinions are protected under the First Amendment, but you’re not allowed to say false things about someone that harms their reputation,” Crawford said. “Libel has always been against the law.”
Libel is defined as written defamation that harms a person’s reputation, exposes them to hate or ridicule or hurts them professionally, according to the Legal Information Institute of Cornell Law School.
While the $965 million verdict is significant, Crawford noted that it is split between many plaintiffs, so it is not as big as it may seem.
“One billion would be a ton if that were one family,” Crawford said.
Crawford added that Jones likely will not be able to pay it in full, either.
“It’s unclear how much money the families will get,” Crawford said. “We probably shouldn’t assume they’ll get a billion dollars.”
Still, Crawford recognized the importance of this case. She predicted that conspiracy theories will never be stopped, but that misinformation trials will become more common in the future.
“We’re going to see more cases as people turn to the courts to be the arbiters of the truth,” Crawford said. “I think it’ll serve as a warning to the big guys with stuff to lose.”
Crawford recommended that anyone interested in learning more about the Jones trial read her piece in The Boston Globe or her upcoming book titled “Truth for the Dead.”