Tech giant Google has been ordered to pay former NSW Deputy Premier and Member for Monaro John Barilaro $715,000 in damages over “racist” and “abusive” YouTube videos.
The case stemmed from videos by comedian and political commentator Jordan Shanks, who goes by the name friendlyjordies, uploaded to YouTube; in particular, one called bruz in September 2020 and another called Secret Dictatorship in October 2020.
On Monday (6 June), Federal Court of Australia Justice Stephen Rares handed down his judgement, saying that for a year before Mr Barilaro resigned as deputy premier, he suffered “a relentless, racist, vilificatory, abusive and defamatory campaign” due to the videos.
Mr Barilaro argued the videos defamed him by portraying him as corrupt and a conman and alleged he committed perjury numerous times among other accusations. Mr Barilaro argued Google was liable as it published the videos.
In bruz, Justice Rares notes Mr Shanks describes Mr Barilaro, whose parents migrated from Italy and settled in Queanbeyan, as “a man who looks like a Mafia don”.
He also portrays Mr Barilaro as a parody of Nintendo video game characters Mario and Luigi and uses a parodied Italian accent.
Mr Barilaro said the video was disgusting, vile and demonstrated “complete racism”.
“I have to sit here today, humiliated, watching those videos, humiliated and for my family and my girls who have to watch it or hear about it,” he said in his evidence.
“I just can’t believe, in this day and age, that I have to endure this.”
Justice Rares said Mr Barilaro received numerous “disgusting” messages over social media that included phrases or certain words made in the videos. He had also received messages telling him to kill himself and threatening one of his daughters.
He had also been confronted by strangers in public, including in front of his family, who used phrases in the videos.
Justice Rares said the messages amounted to harassment and cyberbullying.
He said while politicians faced public scrutiny, that did not give people “a licence to engage in a torrent of gratuitous racial slurring, stereotyping, name-calling, or threats of violence against not only the personal safety of that person, let alone his or her partner or children”.
In late 2020, people connected to Mr Barilaro contacted Google Australia and YouTube to complain about the videos.
YouTube has policies stating content that promotes hatred against individuals based on ethnicity, nationality, race or immigration status will be removed.
However, by the end of the year, Google declined to take any action against the majority of the videos and in early 2021, after Mr Barilaro’s solicitors became involved, said the videos identified did not violate its community guidelines.
Google earned gross revenue of almost $16,000 from the publication of the videos.
In 2021, Mr Shanks and Mr Barilaro agreed to settle the issues in the proceeding between them.
Mr Shanks, who Justice Rares said “needed YouTube to disseminate his poison”, edited the videos, apologised and paid $100,000 to Mr Barilaro’s costs of his unsuccessful applications for a stay of the proceeding and a jury trial.
The justice said Mr Barilaro gave evidence, which he accepted, that every imputation made was false and he found the former MP had been “traumatised” by the videos.
He said Mr Barilaro was profoundly hurt by both the bruz video itself, “through its inherently racist, spiteful and vituperative content”, as well as by Google’s decisions to continue making it and the Secret Dictatorship video available on YouTube from late 2020 to late 2021 when Mr Shanks substituted the edited versions.
He also accepted the “relentless campaign” of hate speech and defamatory imputations prematurely drove Mr Barilaro from his position as deputy premier.
Justice Rares found Google “made a considered decision” to keep bruz and Secret Dictatorship on YouTube from December 2020 even while knowing their content and Mr Barilaro’s complaints.
“Google had no defence to Mr Barilaro’s claim that each of the matters complained of conveyed the defamatory, very serious and false imputations on which he relied,” he said.
“It dragged the litigation out by pleading defences that had no prospect of succeeding, causing Mr Barilaro added distress, damage to his reputation, and delay to his vindication.
“Google encouraged and facilitated Mr Shanks in his vitriolic, obsessional, hate-filled cyberbullying and harassment of Mr Barilaro both before and after Mr Shanks settled the defamation claims against him.”
He said he would refer Mr Shanks and Google for possible contempt of court charges by allegedly” bringing improper pressure on Mr Barilaro and his lawyers not to pursue this proceeding”.
Original Article published by Albert McKnight on About Regional.