Free Speech Isn’t Cheap

On October 12th, 2022, far-right radio and web-streaming host Alex Jones was ordered to pay nearly $1 billion to the families of Sandy Hook shooting victims, a%er spreading the theory that the shooting was a hoax. Alex Jones rose to prominence in 2016 for embracing theories centering on the idea that the public is unaware of malicious forces pulling the strings on world events. One of his most prominent and harmful theories was about the 2012 elementary school shooting in Sandy Hook. Jones claimed that it was fictional and staged by actors for the sake of Obama’s Small Arms Treaty,

“…synthetic, completely fake with actors,” Jones says in a clip discussing the shooting, “in my view, manufactured […] it just shows how bold they are that they clearly used actors.”

Alex Jones broadcasting at Bilderberg in 2012. Image courtesy of Flickr

After parents of Sandy Hook victims sued Jones, jurors in Connecticut ordered the conspiracy theorist to pay the families nearly $1 billion. They made this decision on October 12th. An FBI agent, who was a first responder to the shooting, testified that Jones turned their loss and trauma into years of torment by promoting the lie that the shooting was a hoax. 

The parents of one of the children killed were given nearly $50 million in damages by a jury in a comparable trial that took place last month in Austin, Texas, also as a result of the lying. A third trial in Texas involving two additional parents is anticipated to start soon. 

Jones has reportedly stated that he anticipates the cases to be concluded in appeals for the next two years and has pleaded with his audience to help him raise $500,000 to cover his legal costs.

This brings the long awaited justice for the families, but also can lead us to the question, can free speech go unchecked? When free speech is hurting others do we regulate it? Some argue that free speech is in the Constitution and is therefore a human right.

Political philosopher John Stewart Mill said in his critical essay The Harm Principle and Free Speech, “…the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” It is important to stay aware of what you are spreading on the internet. If there is anything Jones has taught us, it is how hurtful words can be. Having free speech is such a great privilege, but it requires great responsibility. Even though speech is free, it does have consequences.