Disinformation and Defamation:
Alex Jones and the Sandy Hook Massacre

Does the First Amendment Protect Provocateur Alex Jones From Libel Suits?

Alex Jones and his website Infowars made repeated claims that the 2012 murder of twenty children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut was a “giant hoax.” In turn, a number of his followers harassed and sent death threats to the families of the victims, leading some families to go into hiding. Does the First Amendment protect Alex Jones’ speech?

Legal Literacy Across the Curriculum

People whose reputation has been harmed by a publication may decide to sue for libel. In today’s highly charged political environment, a number of high-profile libel suits have been filed as a result of public controversies. Among them, the parents who suffered the trauma of losing their children to a mass murderer at Sandy Hook Elementary. The families’ lawsuits against conspiracy theorist Alex Jones provide a compelling case study for teaching defamation law across the college curriculum. Doing so, professors in a variety of disciplines join in promoting legal literacy as a fundamental civic competency.

WARNING

The following material includes sensitive information about children and gun violence.

Using this Guide

This teaching guide begins with an overview of what happened at the Sandy Hook massacre. Then the guide explores four First Amendment issues. First, the guide allows you to challenge students to analyze the nature of the lawsuits by determining whether the families are “public or private figures.” Second, the guide invites students to classify the evidence brought against Jones, claiming his “intentional and reckless” disregard for facts. Third, the guide gives the resources needed to lead a discussion about whether Jones will prevail using the “opinion” defense.” And, fourth, the guide asks students whether Jones will prevail by using the “rhetorical hyperbole” defense. Finally, the guide lists additional resources you can use to assign students who wish to conduct additional research.

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