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Unpredicted consequences

November 8, 2022

One consequence of the 2020 election was an explosion in right-wing conspiracy theories about it. They serve as a fund-raising mechanisms for the MAGA cult, obfuscate the nature of Trump’s attempted coup, and sow general suspicion about US elections. They also have brought a wave of defamation suits, as Amanda Carpenter describes. While companies like Dominion Voting Systems are bringing those suits on their own behalf, Protect Democracy brings them on behalf of individuals who have been harmed:

Protect Democracy lawyers filed suit against the makers and promoters of the conspiracy movie 2000 Mules on behalf of a private citizen in Georgia who was filmed legally depositing 2020 ballots for himself and his family and falsely labeled a “ballot mule”— that is, someone who illegally trafficked ballots as a means to deprive Donald Trump of his re-election victory. The state election board investigated the case and the plaintiff was cleared of wrongdoing. Despite his exoneration, 2000 Mules was released to the public. The complaint details the extensive harassment the plaintiff has suffered as, to this day, his image continues to be used to promote election conspiracies.

The problem is that those who eagerly consume such conspiracy theories are fat marks. The proceeds from them — which includes donations as well as advertising and direct sales — typically outruns liability exposure. The recent judgments against Alex Jones, in suits brought by the the parents of children killed in a mass shooting, make the glaring exception, where the legal liability — assuming it holds — exceeds what Alex Jones made from his lies. Should blue states consider law that somehow address that imbalance? I’m not sure how. Maybe, in some narrow circumstances, awarded damages should be based on the slanderer’s media income, with the legally defined purpose of shrinking that financial stream?

Liz Cheney has followed up on her promise to endorse Democrats running against Republicans who peddle election lies. That isn’t so much patriotism as it is simple integrity.

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