Ken Paulson, director of the Free Speech Center at Middle Tennessee State University, also believes the ruling won’t have a negative impact on free speech, but he says the outsized damages in the case are meant to be. make an indicate. “I’ve been following libel cases for 40 years, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a less sympathetic defendant,” he says. “What he did was simply despicable and on a level difficult to compete with. The jury is only conveying their utter disgust and anger and attaching huge numbers like a billion dollars to their outrage.
Still, Paulson thinks something changed after the ruling, not least because of the ongoing debate over the future of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the shield that protects social media platforms from liability for content. that their users publish. The Supreme Court is due to hear two cases that could rewrite the power of Section 230, potentially leaving platforms responsible for that content.
“If there were no Section 230, it would send a massive chill to every online organization in the United States that hosts comments of any kind,” Paulson said. This would signal a huge shift in the platforms’ approach to policing the content posted on their sites, largely because they would like to avoid massive financial punishment of the type that Jones just suffered. “For a variety of reasons, including legal risk and a platform’s own standards regardless of legal risk, companies will continue to engage in content moderation,” says Tomain of Indiana University. “At the same time, individuals will continue to seek redress in court where they believe the law provides a remedy based on the speech of others.”
“Major platforms have an important role to play in not giving extra oxygen to false statements that cause concrete injuries,” explains Mathias Vermeulen, disinformation expert and director of AWO, a digital rights agency. “Some of them have taken good steps to prevent such claims from being monetized on their platforms. But that has never been a real deterrent to mass disinformation producers like Jones, who have continued to thrive financially even when they have been banned from these platforms.
Now, the billion-dollar judgment sets a precedent that not only can be won, but those found liable could be liable for monumental damages. “The lesson everyone should take from this is that if you use your freedom of speech to defame or commit fraud, you will suffer the consequences,” Paulson says.
It could mark a sea change in the way people talk on social media. For decades, shock buffs and conspiracy quacks have wanted to be the next Alex Jones, rich atop a sea of true believers. Today, his name is permanently associated with this historic financial figure, the one that will ruin him. No one will aspire to that. “Some speakers seem to be under the false impression that libel law doesn’t apply to social media and that they can say whatever they want without consequence,” says Lidsky of the University of Florida. “This compensation is a corrective to this false impression.”