The demise of misinformation

Some probably have sympathy for the American ‘conservative warrior’ Alex Jones who has recently lost a lawsuit instigated by the parents of one of the victims of the Sandy Hook School shooting. Jones has admitted he has been incorrectly claiming the shooting in 2012 as a hoax for years. Clearly, the Texas jury actually looked at the evidence when they found him guilty. The initial penalty was $4 million — a few days later an additional $43.2 million penalty was added in punitive damages which is to be paid by Jones and his associated entities.

Jones and his website were banned from Facebook and Instagram in 2019 as they (and others banned at the same time)
violated its policy against dangerous individuals and organisations. The company says it has "always banned" people or groups that proclaim a violent or hateful mission or are engaged in acts of hate or violence, regardless of political ideology.
Jones is also being sued in Connecticut and elsewhere in Texas by the families of other victims of the Sandy Hook School shooting and an FBI agent.

It seems that the judgement against Alex Jones and his related entities may not be an isolated reaction to the influence of conservative cultural warriors. In the USA’s Republican Primaries (a process similar to Australian political parties’ pre-selections), Dan Newhouse, one of the 10 Republicans that voted in favour of former President Trump’s impeachment, has increased his level of support against an opponent that was endorsed by Trump..
Probably the most egregious use of misinformation is former President Trump and his supporters’ claims that the 2020 US Presidential election was somehow rigged. While according to The Conversation Trump is still attempting to rewrite history, there have been signs in 2022 that grip is not as strong as it looked. While many Republican candidates have sought Trump’s endorsement by declaring he won the 2020 election, Trump-backed candidates have had mixed fortunes in the Republican primaries.

Democrats have been so confident of the unelectability of some of these candidates they have actively supported them against stronger Republican moderates.

Before the January 6 hearings began, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger both won massive Republican primary victories, despite earning Trump’s continuing wrath for refusing to overturn the 2020 election result in their state.

Significantly, Trump also seems to be losing some of his most valuable media supporters in the wake of the January 6 hearings. The Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post and Wall Street Journal both editorialised against Trump after the last televised hearing. The Post declared him “unworthy to be this country’s chief executive again”, and the Journal praised Mike Pence, a likely 2024 rival.
The recent raid on Trump’s Florida mansion demonstrates that he has lost considerable influence, despite the bluster.

It seems that the business model of peddling misinformation is being called out with greater frequency in the USA. Dominion Voting Systems, the manufacturer of vote counting machines used in parts of the USA and elsewhere is claiming $1.6 Billion damages against News Corp (the owner of Fox News) and running concurrent claims against other media and related entities that made claims their equipment contributed to Trump’s misleading claims of an election steal. News Corp’s bid to have the case thrown out was itself thrown out of court.

Elsewhere in the world personal damages laws are different to those in the USA. The courts’ decisions in the USA still do to some extent provide precedents to courts in other jurisdictions that outright misinformation told repeatedly is injurious to those targeted. Now that there is a precedent, will the Australian conservative rent seekers who never let the facts get in the way of their misinformation learn to control their hyperbole and persecution of ‘opponents’ before or after one of those that is wronged (and with deep pockets) take them to court? Clive Palmer and Mark McGowan recently found out that there are consequences to overblown and ‘heat of the moment’ claims without substance so there are precedents in our legal system.

There are examples being revealed regularly where the former Abbott/Turnbull/Morrison Coalition Government presented misinformation by hiding reports that didn’t correspond with their claimed position, presenting grants to organisations where there were other similar organisations in far greater need of the largesse or targeting decisions and legislation to suit political need. Is it any wonder former PM Morrison showed no inclination to invest in an anti-corruption body that could actually investigate corruption?

It’s clear the misinformation tactics so readily employed by conservatives for the last decade or so are found to be wanting when held up to scrutiny. Over the years, numerous trends in the USA make their way over to this side of the pacific relatively quickly — let's hope holding peddlers of misinformation to account ‘flies across the Pacific’ quickly.

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