Sunday, 04 Dec 2022

Only proper online regulation can stop poisonous conspiracists like Alex Jones | Simon Jenkins

Only proper online regulation can stop poisonous conspiracists like Alex Jones | Simon Jenkins


Only proper online regulation can stop poisonous conspiracists like Alex Jones | Simon Jenkins

I assume every reader of the Guardian will cheer the news of a $965m (£860m) fine imposed on Alex Jones, the rightwing American conspiracist. A Connecticut court fined him for disseminating the cruel lie that the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school shooting was staged with actors by the anti-gun lobby. Justice is now done. Up to a point.

One of the most unfortunate pieces I ever wrote was to greet the internet in the 1990s as of benefit only to lawyers and pornographers. Wired magazine called me Neanderthal of the Year. I admit that among millions of other beneficiaries, I should also have added political maniacs. But the guilty parties uniquely let off scot-free by the Jones jury were the agents of his mendacity, the gold diggers of social media.

A quarter century has rendered us wiser and less gung ho. Of course the internet has brought myriad gains and enjoyments. The main social media outlets have accepted a modicum of responsibility to monitor content. Increasingly frantic attempts are made to keep up with a deluge of often biased and mendacious material, but almost invariably, by the time it is taken down it re-emerges elsewhere. Jones has been banned by Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, but he can still reach audiences on his own website. He says he will appeal forever. He is unrepentant, while his multitudinous backers will pay. Justice is meaningless without enforcement or prevention.

Optimists say that the resulting outbreak of political polarisation and hysteria in most western democracies will somehow correct itself. Freedom of speech will evoke the requisite antibodies and virtue will triumph. I doubt it. As Jones has shown, lies can indeed travel the world while truth is still getting on its boots.

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