Australia’s Defense Minister Wins $25,000 In Damages Over Defamatory Tweet—As Government Targets Damaging Social Media Posts


An Australian Federal Court on Wednesday ruled in favor of the country’ defense minister, Peter Dutton, and awarded him AU$35,000($25,000) in a defamation lawsuit he had brought against a refugee advocate who had called out the lawmaker on Twitter, a move that comes at a time when the Australian government has vowed to crackdown on damaging criticism on social media.

Key Facts

Dutton said he experienced “hurt and distress” after seeing a tweet from refugee activist Shane Bazzi that described him as a “rape apologist,” he told the court, according to Reuters.

The lawmaker said he was accustomed to the “rough and tumble” of politics, however, he was “deeply offended” by the tweet.

Dutton was awarded the equivalent of $25,000 in damages—a fraction of the maximum possible amount—but federal judge Richard White refused the minister’s request for an injunction that would prevent Bazzi from tweeting about him in the future.

Dutton noted that he believed Bazzi’s tweet was not some random rant against him as the refugee activist had a blue tick next to his name, indicating it is a verified account.

Bazzi had posted his tweet after Dutton defended his handling of a complaint about sexual assault inside parliament house.

The now-deleted tweet said “Peter Dutton is a rape apologist” and included a link to a 2019 news story where Dutton is quoted saying that some female refugees were “trying it on” and attempting to enter Australia by making false claims they had been raped.

Crucial Quote

In response to Wednesday’s ruling, Bazzi tweeted: “We are very disappointed with the outcome. We will be taking time to consider our options. Thank you for all of your support and solidarity.”

Key Background

The court’s ruling comes at a time when the Australian government is engaged in a campaign to curb damaging commentary on social media platforms which it has referred to as a “coward’s palace.” Last month, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned that he was prepared to make companies like Facebook and Twitter liable for defamatory comments posted by their users. A month before that, Australia’s top court ruled that publishers can be held liable for public comments posted on online forums, a decision that puts Australia at odds with rules in most other western democracies. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter are often protected by safe harbor laws that ensure that they are not liable for comments made by their users as long as they agree to take down illegal content when notified. Internet activists have argued that safe harbor provisions are a cornerstone of the open internet and removing this provision could result in more online censorship.

Further Reading

Politician Tweets Fake News—And Actually Has To Pay Up And Apologize. (No, It’s Not In The U.S.) (Forbes)

Australia defense minister awarded $25,000 over defamatory six-word tweet (Reuters)


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