Sandy Hook families who won defamation suit against Alex Jones subpoena Facebook as trial nears

Photo of Rob Ryser

NEWTOWN — The Sandy Hook families who won a defamation suit against extremist Alex Jones in Connecticut want to know whether the “Infowars” host used Facebook to amplify conspiracy theories as both sides prepare for a trial to establish damages.

But since Facebook deactivated Jones’ accounts in 2018, his lawyers said they had no access to the social media data the families seek, according to court records.

So the families asked a judge for permission to subpoena Facebook.

“Data concerning the spread of, and audience engagement with, the Jones defendants’ social media posts ... is highly relevant to establishing a causal nexus between the Jones defendants’ conduct and the harm suffered by the plaintiffs,” the families argued in papers filed with state Superior Court. “The requested data would show how the Jones defendants used Facebook to dramatically boost the spread of their defamatory statements about the plaintiffs.”

This week, Jones’ attorneys disagreed, calling the information that the families are requesting in the Facebook subpoena “information that cannot possibly inform a jury as to how any damages could be calculated.”

On Wednesday, state Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis disagreed, granting the families their motion to subpoena Facebook.

Bellis’ order is the latest development for eight families who lost loved ones in the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting who took Jones to court for calling the worst crime in modern Connecticut history “staged,” “synthetic,” “manufactured,” “a giant hoax,” and “completely fake with actors.” Sandy Hook parents in Texas brought three cases against Jones over the same comments.

In both states late last year, parents won the defamation cases against Jones by default, setting the stage for jury trials to establish damages.

On its website, Facebook says it discloses “account records solely in accordance with our terms of service and applicable law, including the federal Stored Communications Act.”

A court order is required to “compel the disclosure of certain records or other information pertaining to the account, not including contents of communications, which may include message headers and IP addresses, in addition to the basic subscriber records,” such as “name, length of service, credit card information, email address(es), and a recent login/logout IP address(es), if available.”

In Connecticut, Bellis’ latest order means the Sandy Hook families can compel Facebook to turn over from Jones’ 14 deactivated Facebook accounts’ subscriber information including “the subscriber’s identity, mail address, telephone number…and payment information.”

“According to public reporting, (Jones’) Facebook pages had millions of fans, likes, and subscribers when the accounts were deactivated,” the families argued in court papers. “The Jones defendants shared their articles, videos, and memes on Facebook in order to reach as large an audience as possible.”

Jones’ attorneys argued in vain that the opposite was the case.

“Sandy Hook was but a minuscule fraction of the content published,” Jones’ lawyers said. “Thus, the motion should be denied because there is no need for the subpoena at all.”

rryser@newstimes.com 203-731-3342