Google has been ordered to pay former New South Wales deputy premier John Barilaro more than $700,000 over a series of “racist” and “abusive” videos published on YouTube channel Friendlyjordies.
On Monday, federal court justice Stephen Rares ruled that Barilaro had been left “traumatised” by a campaign of “relentless cyberbullying” by comedian Jordan Shanks, who uses the nom de plume Friendlyjordies
Rares ruled that Google had failed to adhere to its own policies by doing “nothing to prevent Mr Shanks’ hate speech, cyberbullying and harassment” of Barilaro.
The judge ordered Google to pay $715,000 in total, a figure which could rise if a costs order is made against the tech company.
Rares also said he would refer both the tech company and Shanks for possible contempt of court charges over what he called “improper pressure” placed on Barilaro during the case.
Barilaro sued Google, the owner of YouTube, and Shanks over videos titled “bruz” and “Secret Dictatorship” published by Friendlyjordies in 2020.
The now-retired MP settled his federal court case against Shanks in November 2021 when Shanks provided an apology and edited the videos.
However, Rares said in his judgement that the comedian continued to post on YouTube about Barilaro, including videos containing “slurs” that he had lied to the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (Icac) and conducted an extramarital affair.
The videos also made what Rares called “allegations of professional impropriety” against Barilaro’s lawyers which had no “factual or intelligible basis”.
The videos, and Google’s decision to leave them online, amounted to what the judge called “improper pressure” on Barilaro during the case.
“The intimidatory purpose of the hit its mark,” Rares found, pointing to evidence given by Barilaro during the trial that he had at one point instructed his lawyers to settle the case because “the hell continued”.
In a scathing judgement, Rares said Shanks had run a “relentless cyberbullying” campaign against Barilaro which “caused him to leave public office prematurely”.
He said the two videos at the centre of the defamation trial conveyed “very serious and false” claims about Barilaro, and received hundreds of thousands of views from which Google earned thousands of dollars.
Barilaro recieved “thousands of hateful, some quite disturbing social media posts [and] messages as a result of the videos, Rares found, including violent threats made 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.”
After the judgment Barilaro, said he felt “vindicated”.
“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.
“I am also thankful to my lawyers, Sue Chrysanthou SC and Paul Svilans from Mark O’Brien Legal, who endured immense pressure and exercised their remarkable skills to achieve this victory.
“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.
“The court’s detailed and considered reasons demonstrate why a person’s right to protect their reputation is fundamental to a thriving democracy. This decision is a wonderful end to a decade of public service.”
During the hearing Barilaro recalled telling his staff he was contemplating self-harm after receiving significant online abuse.
“I was in a dark place,” Barilaro told the court.
“The pile on, pile on, pile on, pile on. It’s hard to admit to your friends how you’re feeling [but] I did say those things and I’ve thought about those things often.
“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.”
Barilaro told the court that statements in the Friendlyjordies videos including repeated use of the words “wog”, “greasy” and “slimeball” made him feel as if he was at school where he said he suffered racist abuse because of his Italian heritage.
“I grew up with the word ‘wog’ and ‘dago’,” he said.
“I used to go to school in primary school and would start the day in a punch-up because I was called a ‘wog’.
“Anyone who wants to use the word ‘wog’ and think it doesn’t offend, well ‘wog’ was not used as a term of an endearment, I grew up with that.”
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