The case’s outcome was not unheard-of in a country with notoriously strict defamation laws, but it was unusual that the defendant was not another politician or a high-profile journalist, said Michael Douglas, a senior lecturer in private law at the University of Western Australia.
“It’s consistent with the theme that this government is content in taking a very heavy-handed approach to online speech that it doesn’t like,” he said. He added, “Cases like these are a warning that, unless something changes, we’re going to see more and more cases like this, and every Australian should tread carefully before they do a quote retweet and call a politician a name.”
Mr. Dutton has been open about his intent to crack down on misleading or defamatory social media content. In March, he told a local radio station, “Some of these people who are trending on Twitter or have the anonymity of different Twitter accounts, they’re out there putting out all these statements and tweets that are frankly defamatory — I’m going to start to pick out some of them to sue.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison echoed that sentiment in October, when he vowed that the government would do more to hold social media giants accountable.
“Social media has become a coward’s palace, where people can just go on there, not say who they are, destroy people’s lives and say the most foul and offensive things to people and do so with impunity,” Mr. Morrison said.
In May, John Barilaro, then the deputy premier of New South Wales, sued an Australian YouTuber, Jordan Shanks, for defamation, claiming that two videos Mr. Shanks had uploaded incorrectly suggested he was corrupt, had committed perjury and engaged in blackmail. He also said Mr. Shanks had been racist by attacking his Italian heritage, including calling him a “con man to the core, powered by spaghetti.”
Mr. Shanks’s channel, FriendlyJordies, which has 600,000 subscribers, is known for its comedy and political commentary.