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Misinformation Spreaders Learn From Jones Mistakes, Avoid Court

The big jury verdict against Alex Jones is unlikely to put much of a dent in the phenomenon he represents: belligerent fabulists building profitable media empires with easily disprovable lies, reports the New York Times. Jones’s megaphone has shrunk, thanks partly to decisions by tech platforms like Facebook and Twitter to bar him. His reach is still substantial. Court records showed that Jones’s Infowars store, which sells dubious performance-enhancing supplements and survival gear, made more than $165 million from 2015 to 2018. Jones still appears as a guest on popular podcasts and YouTube shows, and millions of Americans still look to him as, if not a reliable chronicler of current events, at least a wacky diversion. Outside politics, Jones’s choleric, wide-eyed style has influenced the way in which a new generation of conspiracy theorists looks for fame online. They don’t all rant about goblins and gay frogs, as Jones has.

Some of them focus on softer subject matter — like the kooky wellness influencers who went viral for suggesting that Lyme disease is a “gift” caused by intergalactic space matter, or like Shane Dawson, a popular YouTube creator who has racked up hundreds of millions of views with conspiracy theory documentaries in which he credulously examines claims such as “Chuck E. Cheese reuses uneaten pizza” and “Wildfires are caused by directed energy weapons.” Other conspiracy theorists are less likely to end up in court, having learned from Jones' mistakes. Instead of straightforwardly accusing the families of mass-shooting victims of making it all up, they adopt a naïve, “just asking questions” posture while criticizing the official narrative. When attacking a foe, they tiptoe to the line of defamation, being careful not to do anything that could get them sued or barred from social media. When they lead harassment campaigns, they pick their targets wisely, maligning public figures rather than private citizens, which gives them broader speech protections under the First Amendment.


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