Google to pay £400,000 damages to Australian politician over comedian’s YouTube videos

Internet giant Google has been ordered to pay an Australian politician $715,000 (£400,000) in damages after he was left “traumatised” by a series of videos published on YouTube by a comedian.

Former deputy premier of New South Wales, John Barilaro, won his defamation case against Google when a judge ruled the social media giant had failed to adhere to its own policies by doing “nothing to prevent [comedian Jordan] Shanks’s hate speech, cyberbullying and harassment”.

Mr Barilaro told the court he had considered self harm due to the videos, published on the YouTube channel of Mr Shanks, who works under the name Friendlyjordies and has 610,000 YouTube subscribers.

He settled his federal court case against Mr Shanks in November 2021 when the comedian apologised and edited the videos.

John Barilaro, pictured here during his time as deputy premier of New South Wales, said he was badly affected by the videos.

However, judge Stephen Rares said in his judgement the comedian had continued to post on YouTube about Mr Barilaro, including videos containing “slurs” about his political career, as well as his personal life. He said the videos “conveyed false defamatory imputations … namely that he is a corrupt conman, committed perjury and should be in jail”.

Mr Rares said the “relentless cyberbullying” campaign had caused Mr Barilaro to end his political career early. He said Google’s decision to leave the videos online created “improper pressure” on Mr Barilaro and that he would refer both the tech company and Mr Shanks for possible contempt of court charges.

The payout could be still higher if a cost order is made against the company.

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“Google was part and parcel of this disgusting behaviour because it facilitated, published and kept up on YouTube this and similar videos,” Mr 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 judgement, Mr Barilaro said he felt “vindicated”. He had previously told the court that language used in the Friendlyjordies videos included repeated use of the words “wog”, “greasy” and “slimeball”, which he said felt were related to his Italian heritage. Mr Rares said Google had ignored the comedian's use of racist language and “did not apply its own policies” about what could be published on YouTube that prohibit hate speech, cyber-bullying and harassment.

“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,” Mr 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.”

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