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August 9, 2022

The Cost of Misinformation

Recently, there have been several high profile legal decisions that illustrate the potentially high costs of spreading misinformation.

From a young age, we are taught the importance of telling the truth. Our parents and teachers expect us to be honest with them, while our legal system requires participants to swear under oath to tell the truth.

Because society has recognized the importance of the truth, people who push misinformation and false facts often pay a high price for their failure to tell the truth. Recently, there have been several high profile legal decisions that illustrate the potentially high costs of spreading misinformation. These include the Alex Jones case in Texas and the Depp v. Heard case in Virginia.

Alex Jones, founder, publisher, and director of the InfoWars website, is well known for his radio and talk shows. He was sued by the parents of one of the victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School for his statements that the shooting was a hoax. A jury recently awarded the plaintiffs $45.2 million in punitive damages to punish Jones for his false and misleading statements.

The Depp v. Heard case, which captured the attention of the nation, is another case that involved the truthfulness of statements made by the parties. Johnny Depp sued his ex-wife, Amber Heard, in Virginia for statements he alleged were untrue. Ultimately, the jury found that each had defamed the other with false and misleading statements and awarded multimillion-dollar awards to both Depp and Heard because of their false statements about the other.

A recent AP article highlighted several other recent cases that resulted in the defendants paying a hefty price tag to those harmed by false statements. The first was an award of $50 million to a South Carolina mayor after she was accused of committing a crime and being unfit for office in several emails. The second was an award of $38.3 million to a real estate investor who was accused of running a Ponzi scheme in several posts by a former tenant. The last was an award of $274 million to three businessmen who were accused of drug dealing and extortion by a New Hampshire mortgage provider who posted several billboards.

Several of the defendants in these recent legal decisions claimed their statements were protected under the First Amendment right to free speech. However, the First Amendment right to free speech does not protect false statements that injures another person, as evidenced by these recent legal decisions. The truth of words matter, and those who choose to promote misinformation and other false statements may pay a high price for their actions, as illustrated by the significant damages awarded in these recent cases.