Google ordered to pay Australian politician $515,000 over defamatory YouTube videos

SYDNEY: An Australian court on Monday (June 6) ordered Google to pay a former lawmaker A$715,000 (US$515,000), claiming its failure to remove “relentless, racist, defamatory, abusive and libelous” videos from a YouTuber had kicked him out of politics.

The Federal Court found that Alphabet Inc intentionally made money by hosting two videos on its YouTube website attacking the Deputy Premier of New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, which have been viewed almost 800,000 times since their publication at the end of 2020.

The ruling raises the question of tech companies’ culpability for defamation conveyed by users on their websites in Australia, one of the few Western countries where online platforms have the same legal liability as publishers.

Australia is considering what legal exposure platforms should have for defamatory posts. A landmark case in 2021, where a newspaper was found liable for defamatory comments by readers under a Facebook post, prompted global companies to reduce their social media presence in the country.

The judgment showed that Google denied the videos carried defamatory accusations and said the YouTuber had the right to an honest opinion and should be protected by the right to criticize a politician.

A Google spokesperson was unavailable for comment.

“They (Google) were told that these defamatory videos were there, they looked at them, they decided for themselves they weren’t and put them aside,” said Professor David Rolph, specialist in media law at the University of Sydney. Faculty of Law.

“It’s an orthodox application of the basic principles of publication in libel law (but) leaves the larger question of whether we need to reform the principles of publication.”


The court heard that content creator Jordan Shanks uploaded videos in which he repeatedly called lawmaker John Barilaro “corrupt” without citing credible evidence, and called him names attacking his Italian heritage. which, according to the judge, Steve Rares, amounted to “nothing less than hate speech”. “.

By continuing to publish the content, Rares said Google violated its own policies to protect public figures from being unfairly targeted, and “prematurely ousted Mr. Barilaro from his chosen service in public life and significantly traumatized”.

Barilaro left politics a year after Shanks posted the videos, and “Google cannot escape liability for the substantial damage caused by Mr. Shanks’ campaign,” Rares said.

Shanks, who has 625,000 YouTube subscribers and 346,000 followers on Meta Platforms Inc’s Facebook, was co-defendant until a settlement with Barilaro last year that involved the YouTuber editing the videos and paying A$100,000 to the former politician.

But Shanks “needed YouTube to spread its poison (and) Google was willing to join Mr. Shanks in doing so to generate revenue as part of its business model,” the judge said.

Before the lawsuit was resolved, Shanks continued to make derogatory comments about Barilaro and his lawyers in YouTube videos, and the judge said he would refer him and Google to authorities “on what appears to be serious contempt of court by exerting undue pressure . . not to pursue these proceedings”.

In a Facebook post after the ruling, Shanks, who goes by the friendlyjordies handle, mocked Barilaro, saying “you finally scored the Google coin… never having the truth tested in court.”

Shanks added, without evidence, that Barilaro “withdrew (his) action against us so that we don’t testify or present our evidence” in support of the YouTuber’s claims.

Barilaro told reporters outside the courthouse that he felt “exonerated and vindicated”.

“It was never about the money,” he said. “It was an apology, a dismissal. Of course, now an apology is worth nothing after the campaign continued. It took a court to force Google’s hand.”

Raymond T. Helms