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Opinion

Sandy shookt

LOOKING ASKANCE - Joseph Gonzales - The Freeman

It’s probably not big news here, but the Sandy Hook defamation case just drove home some big points against purveyors of fake news and peddlers of lies.

For the unaware, Sandy Hook, Connecticut, was where 20 kids and six adults were killed in a shooting. And Alex Jones, a conspiracy theorist, had used that incident to gain himself some measure of infamy, as well as ardent believers who then went on to patronize the products he had been promoting (described as gun paraphernalia, survivalist equipment, and get this, diet supplements for those gorging on his garbage).

In a tactic designed to pooh-pooh gun shootings, Jones embarked on a bizarre campaign to deny that Sandy Hook ever happened. He spouted the theory that the US government fabricated Sandy Hook as an anti-gun lesson to its citizens. And because of that stunning denial, his believers began a campaign to harass survivors and bereaved relatives, trying to force them to admit that Sandy Hook never occurred, that they were paid actors or that their relatives had never died, and to admit their participation in a hoax.

Death threats, harassment, stalkers, and trolls followed the survivors. And so, they struck back, with parents suing Alex Jones and his trolls for damages. For a nation grappling with an ex-president intent on promoting his own version of reality, this case was a test of how facts stacked up against lies. And this week, a jury just came in, awarding almost $50 million in damages to one set of parents.

So what does this signify for us? We all know our own country has been beset by trolls and fake-news hacks, armed with marching orders to change and twist the narrative for our dearest politicians. Even as we speak, breathe, and live, truth is being shaped and reshaped, molded, and finessed. Oligarchs have contributed to the landscape, lavishing the press and the influencers with glitter and gold, just to create a patina of respectability.

But the case of Jones means there are limits, and that there are consequences. Bloggers, Tiktokers, and Facebook posters will have to tread more carefully and watch out, lest they cross the line, and then get to face justice in its many unpleasant forms. Let them try to deny the truth then, when they’re emptying their pockets behind bars.

It’s been with plenty of amazement that we have seen the rise of these YouTubers and vloggers. The quality of their reportage have taken second place to their charm, insouciance, and presentability, gaining ever more followers and believers in the process, lemmings who no longer care for analytical prowess --they just want to be entertained away from their mind-numbing lives.

And yet, there have been no painful consequences. Maybe slaps on the wrists, some recrimination, but no prosecution. The influencers who gain millions of followers become so powerful that our own law enforcement agents become hesitate to move against them, knowing that their moves can be broadcasted to rabid fans in a snap. In our banana republic, those influencers not just get feted by the corrupt --they even get appointed to government posts and run for Congress.

No matter that they speak without thinking, or that they concoct stories where there are none, or photoshop pictures to corroborate their alternate reality. No matter that they refuse to be corrected even when they are presented with the real facts. No matter that old wives’ tales are repurposed to suit their theory du jour, or untested pills and potions are foisted on unsuspecting consumers without product testing or government approvals.

We have seen all these inundate our space and our streets and our airwaves, and it has not seemed like that there is anything we can do about it. Freedom of speech and freedom of expression have pierced deep into our psyche, and we still do not wish to become like China, with its state-sanctioned truths. And all these have somehow melded into a perfect Petri dish for falsity fertilization, which enabled them to flourish, and flower, and fester.

Alex Jones and Sandy Hook give us hope, though. We have our own victims of false narratives, truths that have withered because falsehoods were promoted, and recycled stories with the singular aim of rehabilitating the evil from their own evils. These victims can latch on to Sandy Hook as a real-life example of justice being dispensed, and copy the playbook that is being developed in real time.

Now, to hope that the dispensers of justice stay the course, and retain their blindfolds over their eyes (that actually means shutting off their smartphones, evading their echo chambers, and avoiding algorithms). Is that too much to expect?

SANDY HOOK

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