The Australian Federal Court has ordered Google to pay the former deputy premier of Australia’s most populous state, John Barilaro, A$715,000 ($515,000) in defamation damages after two videos posted on YouTube drove him to quit politics prematurely.
The videos posted by political commentator Jordan Shanks were a “relentless, racist, vilificatory, abusive and defamatory campaign” against Barilaro, Judge Steven Rares said in the verdict.
The now-retired Barilaro sued Google and Shanks over two videos titled “bruz” and “Secret Dictatorship,” published on the friendlyjordies channel in late 2020, which are both still up on YouTube.
The videos label the then deputy premier of New South Wales as a corrupt con man without evidence, and call him racist names that were “nothing less than hate speech,” the judge said. Those and other videos by Shanks also accuse Barilaro of committing perjury nine times, engaging in blackmail, and having an extramarital affair. The two central videos have racked up a combined 1.3 million views and brought in thousands of dollars to Google since they were first posted in late 2020.
The videos left Barilaro “traumatized” and pushed him to quit politics prematurely, according to Judge Rares, adding, “I found Google’s conduct in this proceeding to be improper and unjustifiable.”
The case brings up questions of how much technology firms are responsible for defamatory remarks posted on their platforms in Australia—one of the few Western nations where social media sites have the same legal responsibility as publishers.
A Google spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.
Judge Rares found Alphabet Inc. failed to apply its own community guideline policies to prevent hate speech, cyberbullying, and harassment, after refusing to take down the video.
After the videos were posted by Shanks in late 2020, Barilaro received “thousands of hateful, some quite disturbing social media posts [and] messages as a result,” Rares noted. Those messages included threats against his family.
“Google was part and parcel of this disgusting behavior because it facilitated, published, and kept up on YouTube this and similar videos,” Rares said, adding, “The ability of social media entities to publish and enable the communication of such material without constraint is a matter that the parliament ought to be considering.”
Shanks, the video poster, already apologized for the videos in November 2021, agreeing to pay A$100,000 ($72,000) to Barilaro after the court found that some of his videos were offensive.
Barilaro said that all he had ever wanted was an apology from Shanks, which is why he chose to settle in the past. “It was never about money. It was about an apology, removal. Of course, now an apology is worthless after the campaign has continued. It’s taken a court to force Google’s hand,” Barilaro said to Reuters.
After the latest judgment against Google, Barilaro said he felt “vindicated,” adding, “This brings to a close a difficult time for me, and I could not have gotten to this point without the support of my family, friends, and colleagues.”
Barilaro said that amid the worst of the scandal he contemplated self-harm and suicide, calling it a “dark place.”
“When you’re away from your family in your apartment in Sydney, up late at night deleting abusive comments [online], I tell you what, you start looking at the balcony for a way out.”
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