An Australian court has ordered Google to pay $715,000 in damages to former New South Wales deputy premier, John Barilaro, for hosting “racist” and “abusive” videos posted by YouTuber Jordan Shanks that mocked the former MP’s Italian heritage.
The ruling was handed down on Monday, and found that Google had failed to enforce its own policies by allowing Shanks—whose YouTube account Friendlyjordies has more than 625,000 subscribers and is estimated to earn up to $20,300 a month in revenue—to direct a “relentless, racist, vilificatory, abusive and defamatory campaign” at Barilaro for more than a year.
In the judgement, which was handed down by federal court justice Stephen Rares, Google was found to have done nothing to enforce YouTube’s community guidelines, and allowed content containing hate speech to remain live on its platforms, despite Barilaro’s best efforts to get them taken down.
The outcome arrives after Barilaro moved to sue both Google and Shanks for defamation over two videos, “bruz” and “Secret Dictatorship”, which were posted to Friendlyjordies in 2020. Barilaro settled his case with Shanks late last year, after the YouTuber apologised and edited the two videos.
But Rares said Google could’ve done more to curb the impact of the videos, which saw Shanks call Barilaro a “wog”, “greasy”, and a “greasy little scrotum”, before mocking his “migrant success story” and likening the former MP to a “Greasy Ned Kelly”, as well as claiming Barilaro had lied to the NSW corruption watchdog and cheated on his wife.
“Google cannot hide behind the use of its Californian head office or American understandings of the English language as being the same as in Australia,” Rares said.
“It operates a very large business in Australia, has Australian staff and lawyers and could not suggest that it was somehow ignorant of how hurtful and bullying the ‘bruz’ video was in its use of the slurs and venomous hate speech that Mr Shanks directed avowedly, deliberately at Mr Barilaro, for criticising Mr Shanks’ earlier racist behaviour.
In his judgement, Rares went on to say the two videos in question left Barilaro “traumatised”, and that there was no way Google would have argued that publishing either of them was in the public interest.
A quick Google search, Rares suggested, would have revealed that the claims made by Shanks were “gross distortions” that misrepresented facts laid out in a number of document excerpts and news articles flashed on-screen throughout his videos.
Rares said Barilaro found himself at the centre of a vitriolic hate campaign as a result, and was left fielding “thousands of hateful, some quite disturbing social media posts [and] messages as a result of the videos”, including threats levelled against his daughter.
“Google was part and parcel of this disgusting behaviour because it facilitated, published and kept up on YouTube this and similar videos,” Rares said.
“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.”
Even as the case went to court, the violent messages kept coming, Rare found, after evidence given by Barilaro suggested he had asked his lawyers to settle his case with Shanks because “the hell continued”.
As a result, Rare suggested that both Shanks and Google could find themselves facing contempt of court charges for putting “improper pressure” on Barilaro throughout the course of the case.
Barilaro, who during the hearing testified to telling his staff that the case had led him to contemplate suicide, said he was vindicated by Rare’s judgement.
“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.
“All I wanted at the outset was for Google to remove these videos and they refused. It is no small undertaking for an individual to take on a company like Google but it was important that I did so.”
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