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Don’t Expect Alex Jones’s Comeuppance to Stop Lies

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If it hadn’t been so excruciatingly sad, Alex Jones’s defamation trial might have been cathartic.

Mr. Jones, the supplement-slinging conspiracy theorist, was ordered to pay more than $45 million in damages to Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the parents of a 6-year-old who was murdered in the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The jury’s verdict came after Mr. Jones was found liable for defaming Mr. Heslin and Ms. Lewis, whom for years he falsely accused of being crisis actors in a “false flag” operation plotted by the government.

To the victims of Mr. Jones’s harassment campaigns, and to those who have followed his career for years, the verdict felt long overdue — a notorious internet villain finally facing real consequences for his actions. The families of the children killed at Sandy Hook, many of whom have waited years to see Mr. Jones pay for his lies, are no doubt relieved.

But before we celebrate Mr. Jones’s comeuppance, we should acknowledge that the verdict against him is unlikely to put much of a dent in the phenomenon he represents: belligerent fabulists building profitable media empires with easily disprovable lies.

Mr. Jones’s megaphone has shrunk in recent years — thanks, in part, to decisions by tech platforms like Facebook and Twitter to bar him from their services. But his reach is still substantial, and he has more influence than you might think.

Court records showed that Mr. Jones’s Infowars store, which sells dubious performance-enhancing supplements and survival gear, made more than $165 million from 2015 to 2018. Despite his deplatforming, Mr. Jones still appears as a guest on popular podcasts and YouTube shows, and millions of Americans still look to him as, if not a reliable chronicler of current events, at least a wacky diversion. (And a wealthy one — an expert witness in the trial estimated the net worth of Mr. Jones and Free Speech Systems, his holding company, at somewhere between $135 million and $270 million.)

In the coming weeks, Mr. Jones — a maestro of martyrdom — will no doubt spin his court defeat into hours of entertaining content, all of which will generate more attention, more subscribers, more money.

But a bigger reason for caution is that, whether or not Mr. Jones remains personally enriched by his lies, his shtick is everywhere these days.

You can see and hear Mr. Jones’s influence on Capitol Hill, where attention-seeking Republican politicians often sound like they’re auditioning for slots on Infowars. When Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, suggests that a mass shooting could have been orchestrated to persuade Republicans to support gun-control measures, as she did in a Facebook post about the July 4 shooting in Highland Park, Ill., she’s playing hits from Mr. Jones’s back catalog. Mr. Jones also played a role in fueling the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, in ways we are still learning about. (The House panel investigating the insurrection has asked for a copy of the text messages from Mr. Jones’s phone that were mistakenly sent to the lawyers representing the plaintiffs in his defamation case.)

You can also see Mr. Jones’s influence in right-wing media. When Tucker Carlson stokes nativist fears on his Fox News show, or when a Newsmax host spins a bizarre conspiracy theory about an effort by Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, to have Justice Brett Kavanaugh of the Supreme Court killed, it’s proof that Infowars’ DNA has entered the conservative bloodstream.

Even outside politics, Mr. Jones’s choleric, wide-eyed style has influenced the way in which a new generation of conspiracy theorists looks for fame online.

These creators don’t all rant about goblins and gay frogs, as Mr. Jones has. But they’re pulling from the same fact-free playbook. Some of them focus on softer subject matter — like the kooky wellness influencers who recently went viral for suggesting that Lyme disease is a “gift” caused by intergalactic space matter, or like Shane Dawson, a popular YouTube creator who has racked up hundreds of millions of views with conspiracy theory documentaries in which he credulously examines claims such as “Chuck E. Cheese reuses uneaten pizza” and “Wildfires are caused by directed energy weapons.”

Certain elements of left-wing and centrist discourse also owe a debt to Mr. Jones. The “Red Scare” podcast, which is popular with an anti-establishment “post-left” crowd, has interviewed Mr. Jones and shares some overlapping interests. Much of the unhinged coverage and analysis of the legal battle between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, which dominated social media this summer, had a Jonesian tinge. Even Joe Rogan, the popular podcast host (who has hosted Mr. Jones on his show and has defended him as “hilarious” and “entertaining”), has borrowed some of the Infowars founder’s connect-the-dots paranoia in arguing, for example, that Covid-19 vaccines can alter your genes.

It would be too simple to blame (or credit) Mr. Jones for inspiring the entire modern cranksphere. But it’s safe to say that many of today’s leading conspiracy theorists have found the same profitable sweet spot of lies and entertainment value. It’s also probable that we’ve become desensitized to conspiracy theories, and many of the outrageous falsehoods that once got Mr. Jones into trouble — such as the allegations about Sandy Hook parents that were at the center of his defamation trial — would sound less shocking if uttered today.

Other conspiracy theorists are less likely than Mr. Jones to end up in court, in part because they’ve learned from his mistakes. Instead of straightforwardly accusing the families of mass-shooting victims of making it all up, they adopt a naïve, “just asking questions” posture while poking holes in the official narrative. When attacking a foe, they tiptoe right up to the line of defamation, being careful not to do anything that could get them sued or barred from social media. And when they lead harassment campaigns, they pick their targets wisely — often maligning public figures rather than private citizens, which gives them broader speech protections under the First Amendment.

That’s not to say there won’t be more lawsuits, or attempts to hold conspiracy theorists accountable. Fox News, for one, is facing a defamation lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems, which claims that the network knowingly made false statements about voter fraud in the 2020 election.

But these cases are the exceptions, not the rule. The truth is that today’s media ecosystem is overflowing with Infowars-style conspiracy theories — from History Channel shows about ancient aliens building the Egyptian pyramids to TikToks made by yoga moms who think Wayfair is selling trafficked children — and it’s not clear that our legal system can, or should even attempt to, stop them.

Social media companies can help curb the spread of harmful lies by making it harder for fabulists to amass huge audiences. But they have their own limitations, including the simple fact that conspiracy theorists have gotten more sophisticated about evading their rules. If you draw a line at claiming that Bigfoot is real, attention-seeking cranks will simply get their millions of views by positing that Bigfoot might be real and that their audiences would be wise to do their own research to figure out what Bigfoot-related secrets the deep-state cabal is hiding.

To this new, more subtle generation of propagandists and reactionaries, Mr. Jones is an inspiration who ascended the profession’s highest peaks. But he’s also a cautionary tale — of what can happen when you cross too many lines, tell too many easily disprovable lies and refuse to back down.

Mr. Jones isn’t done facing the music. Two more lawsuits brought against him by Sandy Hook family members are still pending, and he could end up owing millions more in damages.

But, even if Mr. Jones’s career is ruined, his legacy of brazen, unrepentant dishonesty will live on — strengthened, in some ways, by the knowledge of exactly how far you can push a lie before consequences kick in.



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ElonJet is (sort of) back on Twitter

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The college student who ran the now-banned @ElonJet Twitter account that used public information to track Elon Musk’s private jet has resumed his activities on Twitter under a new username. As noted by Insider, Jack Sweeney, 20, has created a new account called @ElonJetNextDay — which now tracks Musk’s private jet with a 24-hour delay to circumvent Twitter policy restrictions.

Sweeney’s original ElonJet account was suspended from the platform last week following accusations from Musk that it violated Twitter rules by revealing his live location. Twitter updated its policy to forbid publishing a person’s real-time location on the same day it suspended ElonJet. Sweeney said in an interview with Insider that he will be “posting manually” for now while he works on the framework to fully automate the account.

Musk tweeted on December 15th that “Posting locations someone traveled to on a slightly delayed basis isn’t a safety problem, so is ok.” Twitter also explicitly states that “sharing publicly available location information after a reasonable time has elapsed, so that the individual is no longer at risk for physical harm” is not a violation of platform rules. Elsewhere in the policy, it notes that its definition of “live” location data means someone’s real-time or same-day whereabouts.

Most commercial and private aircraft are equipped with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast technology (ADS-B) that transmits a unique code (tied to the airplane’s tail number) containing information such as altitude and GPS location. This information is publicly available and aircraft flying in the USA and Europe are required to broadcast it in order to prevent midair collisions.

In a statement back in November, Musk said he would not ban the original ElonJet account as part of his “commitment to free speech” despite claiming it was a “direct personal safety risk.” The automated ElonJet account posted publicly available information regarding the location of Musk’s 2015 Gulfstream G650ER, and had amassed over 540,000 followers before it was permanently banned on December 14th. Musk previously offered Sweeney $5,000 to have the account taken down.



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She Worked for Twitter. Then She Tweeted at Elon Musk.

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Early in November, Twitter’s roughly 7,500 employees received a terse email from a generic address: “In an effort to place Twitter on a healthy path, we will go through the difficult process of reducing our global work force.” The note was signed “Twitter.” On Nov. 3, some people at the company received emails indicating they would be laid off the next day.

That night, Ms. Solomon, her husband and a few colleagues headed to Dots Cafe Portland, a lounge on Clinton Street. Phones were on the table, face up, she said. As the work friends talked, they tapped away at their phones, taking part in chats on the Signal app with colleagues in London, Seattle and San Francisco. Messages like “I got hit” were flying across screens, Ms. Solomon recalled. “You were seeing your co-workers drop like flies,” she said.

By the next afternoon her team of about 10 engineers was reduced to four. Ms. Solomon and her husband had survived the round of layoffs. The next week, she recalled, she awaited further direction from Mr. Musk or the new executive team. Nothing came, she said, except for an email alerting employees that remote work would no longer be permitted, with few exceptions.

Many employees learned of Mr. Musk’s priorities by watching his Twitter feed, where he posted frequently about company business to his more than 100 million followers. On Nov. 5, he complained about the platform’s search function: “Search within Twitter reminds me of Infoseek in ’98! That will also get a lot better pronto,” he wrote. That same day, he tweeted: “Twitter will soon add ability to attach long-form text to tweets, ending absurdity of notepad screenshots.”

That was more than Ms. Solomon and many of her colleagues had heard internally. “Radio silence,” she said. She began to vent her frustration on Twitter.

One of her first tweets in this vein came on Nov. 6, shortly after Mr. Musk announced a new rule for Twitter users in a tweet: “Any name change at all will cause temporary loss of verified checkmark,” he wrote. He had posted that message after many people on Twitter had changed their names to variations on Mr. Musk’s name, most of them mocking.



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The new iOS 16.2 Home app architecture upgrade has disappeared

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Apple has removed the option to upgrade to the new HomeKit architecture on devices running iOS 16.2. The change follows multiple reports of issues and problems with the Home app after the upgrade was installed.

Apple spokesperson Emily Ewing confirmed the change in a statement provided to The Verge:

“We are aware of an issue that may impact the ability for users to share the Home within the Home app. A fix will be available soon. In the meantime, we’ve temporarily removed the option to upgrade to the new Home architecture. Users who have already upgraded will not be impacted.“

The new Home app architecture was one of the key features of iOS 16.2, with Apple claiming that the upgrade would be “more reliable and efficient.” MacRumors first discovered this week that the Home app in iOS 16.2 no longer offers the option to upgrade to the new architecture within the Home app settings. Several reporters at The Verge have also confirmed that the upgrade option is unavailable on their devices.

The new architecture was first introduced in the iOS 16.2 beta back in October as an optional upgrade before the iOS 16.2 public release on December 13th. Both the beta and public release required Apple devices logged into iCloud to be running the latest versions of iOS, macOS, and tvOS. The upgrade does not happen automatically when iOS 16.2 is installed on a phone, instead requiring a manual process through the Home app.

The update has caused issues with missing devices and adding multiple users for some

Reddit users who downloaded the optional upgrade prior to its removal have reported issues such as the app booting other members from a Home account and being unable to re-add them. Users on the MacRumors forum have reported being unable to invite users to share the Home, HomeKit‌ devices being stuck displaying an “updating” status, and some accessories vanishing from the Home app entirely. Users who have already upgraded are unable to revert to the previous version of the app.

Update, December 23rd, 2022, 2:15PM ET: Added confirmation and statement from Apple spokesperson. Added links to Apple’s updated support pages.

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