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Google slammed over Friendlyjordies YouTube videos about ex-Deputy Premier John Barilaro

Videos which framed a former NSW Deputy Premier as a corrupt conman and mocked his Italian heritage forced him to quit politics, a court has heard.

John Barilaro is suing Google, the owner of YouTube, after it refused to remove videos from the platform which he claims were defamatory.

ICAC
Camera IconFormer NSW Nationals leader and Deputy Premier John Barilaro quit politics last year. NCA NewsWire / Adam Yip Credit: News Corp Australia

The videos titled Bruz and Secret Dictatorship were created in 2020 by popular comedian and political commentator Jordan Shanks, who attracts a huge following on his Friendlyjordies social media accounts.

Through his lawyer, Mr Shanks last year apologised to Mr Barilaro for the “hurt” suffered from the offensive videos.

As part of the settlement deal reached, Mr Shanks also paid Mr Barilaro $100,000 in legal costs and made edits to the two videos which remain on YouTube.

Google never struck a settlement deal and launched numerous defences to claims it was wrong to allow the videos to be posted on YouTube.

Most of those defences were abandoned last week and the tech giant now only claims the videos were kept online because they were in the public interest.

DOWNING CENTRE
Camera IconJordan Shanks is the face of Friendlyjordies which boasts 616,000 YouTube subscribers. NCA NewsWire / Damian Shaw Credit: News Corp Australia

At the start of a Federal Court hearing in Sydney on Monday, Mr Barilaro’s barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC said the case now centred around how much money her client should be paid in damages.

“Google facilitated a vile and despicably racist smear campaign against John Barilaro which resulted in him being driven out of public office,” Ms Chrystanthou told the court.

“Mr Shanks amended the videos, not Google and their conduct is incomprehensible and should not be excused by this court.”

The court was played the Bruz video in which Mr Barilaro was likened to the much loved Nintendo character Mario and Mr Shanks narrates in an Italian accent.

FEDERAL COURT
Camera IconLeading defamation barrister Sue Chrysanthou SC is representing John Barilaro as he tries to make Google pay up. NCA NewsWire / Adam Yip Credit: News Corp Australia

In the video Mr Barilaro is criticised for his response to bushfires, management of national parks, handling of water corruption allegations and the awarding of government grants to businesses with links to the Liberal and National Parties.

“Conman”, ‘moron”, “fat” “dumb” and “stupid” were among words to describe Mr Barilaro in the video which played to Federal Court Justice Steven Rares.

Ms Chrysanthou told the court the videos were “dripping with hatred and malice” and that Google made money off videos posted on YouTube.

“It is difficult to see how Google determined that that video was not replete with racial slurs and stereotypes and egregiously insulting and offensive language,” she said.

“Mr Shanks had a hatred of my client, that would be apparent to any person and doubt must have been apparent to Google.

“We cannot comprehend how any rational person could watch this material and think that it is okay to leave it online particularly having regard to the policies Google claims that it adheres to.”

Prime Minister
Camera IconGoogle’s legal team is yet to address the hearing. NCA Newswire / Gaye Gerard Credit: News Corp Australia

The court heard Google tried to justify leaving the videos online by saying they contained numerous references to mainstream media stories about Mr Barilaro’s performance in office.

“Google did not do a Google search of my client and did not look up these articles that are freely available … to actually read them,” Ms Chrystanthou said.

“Had they bothered to even look at the articles that appear on this video they would have seen that they do not support the scandalous allegations being made about my client.”

“It’s one thing to comment upon or criticise a person in public office and to raise questions about their honesty or credibility in connection with decisions. It’s another to persistently tie that conduct or that alleged conduct to a persons ethnic background in the way that Mr Shanks chose to do in that video.”

Ms Chrystanthou told the court Google had not apologised to Mr Barilaro and wanted to waste his time and money by dragging out proceedings in the hope he would drop legal action.

“He is an individual against a company worth billions and billions of dollars,” she said.

“The publications have caused my client harm … it’s clear when you look at this hate mail that it was caused by the publications because there are references to Bruz, corrupt Mario, Gestapo loving green pipe Goomba stomping Italian sausage … this is the sort of hatred and racist attack incited by these videos which Google publishes, which Google provides a forum for to hundreds of thousands of viewers, which Google makes money from.

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