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Infowars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones is facing a hefty price tag for his lies about the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre — $49.3 million in damages and counting — for claiming the nation’s deadliest school shooting was a hoax. The verdict is the first of three Sandy Hook-related cases against Jones to be decided and a punishing salvo in a fledgling war on harmful misinformation. But what does it mean for the larger misinformation ecosystem of election denial, COVID-19 skepticism and other dubious claims that Jones helped build? Courts have held that defamatory statements against a person or a business aren’t protected as free speech, but lies about things like science, history and the government are.
FILE - In this July 12, 2022 file photo, a video showing Alex Jones is shown as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol holds a hearing at the Capitol in Washington. An attorney representing two parents who sued Jones over his false claims about the Sandy Hook massacre says the U.S. House Jan. 6 committee has requested two years’ worth of records from Jones’ phone. Attorney Mark Bankston said in court Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022 that the committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol has requested the digital records. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
Mark Bankston, lawyer for Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, asks Alex Jones questions about an illustration of Judge Maya Guerra Gamble, left, that InfoWars has been showing on air during a trial at the Travis County Courthouse in Austin, Texas, on Wednesday Aug. 3, 2022. (Briana Sanchez/Austin American-Statesman via AP)
Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones attempts to answer questions about his emails asked by Mark Bankston, lawyer for Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, during trial at the Travis County Courthouse in Austin, Wednesday Aug. 3, 2022. Jones testified Wednesday that he now understands it was irresponsible of him to declare the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre a hoax and that he now believes it was “100% real." (Briana Sanchez/Austin American-Statesman via AP, Pool)
Alex Jones arrives at the Travis County Courthouse in Austin, Tuesday Aug. 2, 2022. The father of a 6-year-old killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting has testified that conspiracy theorist Alex Jones made his life a “living hell” by pushing claims the murders were a hoax. Neil Heslin testified Tuesday that he fears for his life because of Jones' claims. Heslin and Scarlett Lewis are the parents of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis. (Briana Sanchez/Austin American-Statesman via AP)