Australia Defamation Case Signals a Crackdown on Ordinary Citizens, Critics Say

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The outcome of the case was not unusual for a country with notoriously strong defamation lawsbut it was unusual that the defendant was not another politician or a prominent journalist, said Michael Douglas, senior lecturer in private law at the University of Western Australia.

“This is consistent with the theme that this government is content with a very tough approach to online speaking, which it doesn’t like,” he said. He added: “Cases like these are a warning that if things don’t change, we will see more and more cases like this, and every Australian must proceed with caution before retweeting quotes and naming a policy.”

Mr. Dutton has been open about his intention to combat misleading or defamatory content on social media. In March he said local radio station: “Some of these people who are trending on Twitter or have anonymity on different Twitter accounts are posting all these statements and tweets that are downright discrediting – I’m going to highlight some of them to sue.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison repeated this opinion in October, when he pledged the government would do more to hold the social media giants accountable.

“Social media has become a coward’s palace where people can just go there without saying who they are, ruin people’s lives and say the dirtiest and most offensive things to people and do it with impunity,” said Mr. Morrison.

In May, John Barilaro, then Deputy Prime Minister of New South Wales, sued Australian YouTuber Jordan Shanks for libel, claiming that two videos that Mr. Shanks had incorrectly uploaded suggested he was corrupt, perjured and blackmailed. He also said that Mr. Shanks was racist in attacking his Italian heritage, including calling him “a spaghetti-fueled swindler to the core.”

Mr. Shanks’s channel, FriendlyJordies, has 600,000 subscribers and is renowned for its comedy and political commentary.

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