Monday, an Australian court ordered Google to compensate a former legislator A$715,000 ($515,000), stating that Google’s failure to delete relentless, racist, vilification, abusive, and defamatory” YouTube videos forced him out of politics.
The Federal Court determined that Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Inc gained money purposefully by displaying two videos on YouTube that attacked the then-vice-premier of Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, and had been seen about 800,000 times since they were launched in 2020.
In Australia, one of the few Western countries where internet platforms have the same legal responsibilities as publishers, the verdict raises the issue of how much responsibility technology companies have for defamatory content posted by users on their websites.
Australia is examining the legal exposure that platforms for defamatory material should have. A landmark case in 2021, in which a newspaper was held responsible for defamatory reader comments placed under a story on Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), prompted multinational corporations to curtail their social media presence in the country.
According to the verdict, Google disputed that the videos included defamatory innuendoes and said that the YouTuber had the right to an honest view and should be protected by the freedom to criticize a leader.
A Google representative was unavailable for comment.
Prof. David Rolph, an expert in media law at the University of Sydney Law School, said, “They (Google) were informed that those films were defamatory; they investigated; they concluded that they were not; and they left them up.”
“This is a conventional application of the fundamental rules of publishing in defamation law, but it raises the wider issue of whether the principles of publication need change.”
The court heard that content producer Jordan Shanks produced videos in which he repeatedly called politician John Barilaro “corrupt” without presenting solid proof and attacked his Italian ethnicity, which the judge, Steve Rares, described as “nothing short of hate speech.”
By continuing to post the video, according to Rares, Google violated its own regulations designed to prevent public figures from being unjustly targeted and “forced Mr. Barilaro out of his chosen public service early and traumatized him greatly.”
Barilaro left politics a year after Shanks uploaded the recordings, and “Google cannot avoid its accountability for the significant harm Mr. Shanks’ campaign created,” according to Rares.
Shanks, who has 625,000 YouTube subscribers and 346,000 Facebook followers for Meta Platforms Inc, was a co-defendant until a settlement with Barilaro was reached last year, in which the YouTuber edited the videos and paid the former lawmaker A$100,000.
But Shanks “needs YouTube to spread his poison, and Google was eager to engage him in doing so in order to generate income as part of its business model,” the judge said.
Shanks continued to make disparaging remarks about Barilaro and his attorneys in YouTube videos before the lawsuit was resolved, and the judge said he would refer him and Google to the authorities “for what appears to be serious contempt of court by bringing improper pressure… not to pursue this proceeding.”
Shanks, whose Facebook account is friendlyjordies, taunted Barilaro in a post following the judgment, writing, “you finally won the currency from Google… without ever having the facts verified in court.”
Shanks claimed, without proof, that Barilaro “withdrew his lawsuit against us so that we would not testify or provide our evidence” in support of the YouTuber’s assertions.
Barilaro told reporters outside the courtroom that he felt “free and clean.”
He said, “It was never about money.” “It included an apology and removal. Obviously, an apology is now pointless since the campaign has persisted. A court was required to push Google’s hand.”