Australia media firms join fight against Rebel Wilson’s record $3.6 million defamation payout

The Supreme Court of Victoria found that Rebel Wilson missed out on Hollywood roles as a result of a string of articles published by German magazine publisher Bauer Media. (Reuters)
Updated 26 February 2018

Australia media firms join fight against Rebel Wilson’s record $3.6 million defamation payout

SYDNEY: Australian media companies on Monday sought to join German magazine publisher Bauer Media in fighting a record A$4.56 million ($3.6 million) defamation payout to Hollywood actress Rebel Wilson, arguing it set a dangerous precedent.
The Australian arm of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, Fairfax Media Ltd, Seven West Media Ltd. and Nine Entertainment Co. Holdings Ltd. and the Australian Broadcasting Corp. filed a joint motion to “intervene” in the case, a lawyer representing the companies said.
The move is a rare show of unity in an industry increasingly divided along political lines. In 2017, a court awarded the “Pitch Perfect” Sydney-born star the country’s highest defamation payout, smashing the A$389,000 maximum, by using the actress’s global reach to justify a “special” damages payment.
The Supreme Court of Victoria found that Wilson missed out on Hollywood roles as a result of a string of articles published by Bauer which claimed Wilson lied about her age, real name and some childhood events, even after it knew the allegations were false.
In Australian law, companies are allowed to seek permission to intervene in a case if they believe the outcome affects their business directly. If allowed, they get to argue their case, separate from the plaintiff and the defendant, during a hearing.
“The concern is that Justice (John) Dixon (of the Supreme Court of Victoria) found that where aggravated damages are awarded, the damages cap no longer applies,” said Justin Quill from Macpherson Kelley Lawyers, representing the media companies.
“This sets a precedent because if someone has an aggravated damages claim then they can be given unlimited damages – the sky is the limit,” he added.
Wilson’s lawyer did not respond to an email requesting comment.
Bauer wasn’t “surprised to see Australia’s largest media organizations supporting its position in relation to the cap on defamation damages,” its general counsel, Adrian Goss, said in an email.
“That aspect of the court’s decision has significant consequences for all media,” Goss added.
Australian media companies routinely intervene in cases when they want to overturn suppression orders, but rarely in matters concerning defamation.
Bauer’s appeal against the Wilson payout begins on April 18.


Google says misinformation campaign used YouTube to target Hong Kong protests

Updated 23 August 2019

Google says misinformation campaign used YouTube to target Hong Kong protests

SAN FRANCISCO, US: Google on Thursday said it disabled a series of YouTube channels that appeared to be part of a coordinated influence campaign against pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
The announcement by YouTube’s parent company came after Twitter and Facebook accused the Chinese government of backing a social media campaign to discredit Hong Kong’s protest movement and sow political discord in the city.
Google disabled 210 YouTube channels that it found behaved in a coordinated manner while uploading videos related to the Hong Kong protests, according to Shane Huntley of the company’s security threat analysis group.
“This discovery was consistent with recent observations and actions related to China announced by Facebook and Twitter,” Huntley said in an online post.
Twitter and Facebook announced this week that they suspended nearly 1,000 active accounts linked to a coordinated influence campaign. Twitter said it had shut down about 200,000 more before they could inflict any damage.
“These accounts were deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground,” Twitter said, referring to the active accounts it shut down.
Facebook said some of the posts from accounts it banned compared the protesters in Hong Kong with Daesh group militants, branded them “cockroaches” and alleged they planned to kill people using slingshots.
China has “taken a page from Russia’s playbook” as it uses social media platforms outside the country to wage a disinformation campaign against the protests, according to the non-profit Soufan Center for research, analysis, and strategic dialogue related to global security issues.
“Beijing has deployed a relentless disinformation campaign on Twitter and Facebook powered by unknown numbers of bots, trolls, and so-called ‘sock puppets,’” the center said on its website, referring to fake online identities created for deception.
“China’s behavior will likely grow more aggressive in both the physical and virtual realms, using on-the-ground actions to complement an intensifying cyber campaign characterized by disinformation, deflection, and obfuscation.”

Misused by autocratic regimes
While social media platforms have been tools for people to advocate for rights, justice or freedom in their countries, the services are being turned on them by oppressive governments, according to the Soufan Center.
“Autocratic governments are now using these same platforms to disparage demonstrators, divide protest movements, and confuse sympathetic onlookers,” the center said.
Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous southern Chinese city and one of the world’s most important financial hubs, is in the grip of an unprecedented political crisis that has seen millions of people take to the streets demanding greater freedoms.
China’s government has publicly largely left the city’s leaders and police force to try and resolve the crisis, but behind the scenes online, Beijing is seeking to sway public opinion about Hong Kong, according to Twitter and Facebook.
“We are disclosing a significant state-backed information operation focused on the situation in Hong Kong, specifically the protest movement and their calls for political change,” Twitter said.
It said it had pulled 936 accounts originating in China that were spreading disinformation.
Twitter and Facebook are banned in China, part of the government’s so-called “Great Firewall” of censorship.
Because of the bans, many of the fake accounts were accessed using “virtual private networks” that give a deceptive picture of the user’s location, Twitter said.
Facebook said it had acted on a tip from Twitter, removing seven pages, three groups and five Facebook accounts that had about 15,500 followers.
“Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found links to individuals associated with the Chinese government,” Facebook said.