In 1974, a Supreme Court case, Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., looked at a fringe news outlet with a loud and dissenting opinion who claimed that a fatal shooting was a hoax orchestrated by a shadowy force bent on replacing democracy with dictatorship.
The report was untrue, of course, but the outlet still named and insulted alleged collaborators and was sued for defamation as a result.
If this scenario sounds familiar, its because it parallels what is happening now with Alex Jones, the InfoWars founder who infamously spread the lie that the Sandy Hook school shooting was an elaborate hoax, and that the grieving parents were crisis actors. Those parents are now suing Jones. The Gertz v. Robert Welch Inc. suit is the legal precedent for the court to decide how hard or easy it will be to take Jones to task for spreading lies.
But a lot has happened since 1974, namely the emergence of the internet. Jones’ legal arguments focus on the nuances of free speech: What constitutes a serious media institution and what kind of actions signify a public figure? Whether Jones wins or loses, writes Wired, his suit will set a precedent for how we look at free speech in the 21st century.
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