Google guilty of defamation

Courts outside the USA are increasingly uninterested in hearing the social media platforms assert that they are above the civil law:

Google has been ordered to pay $40,000 in damages to a Melbourne lawyer after a Supreme Court of Victoria ruling found the internet giant was a publisher, and had defamed the man. In today’s ruling, Justice Melinda Richards has determined that Google was a publisher, despite denials by the company.

The case centred on articles and images published by The Age newspaper in 2004, after Mr Defteros was charged with conspiracy over the murder of Carl Williams and other underworld figures.

At the time, Mr Defteros ran a legal firm in Melbourne whose clients included gangland figures.

The charges were dropped the following year, but Mr Defteros had surrendered his practising certificate for three years.

Mr Defteros argued that in 2016 and 2017, searches on Google continued to turn up articles and hyperlinks to web material that defamed him, including an entry in the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia.

During a trial last year, Google’s lawyers had argued it was not the publisher of the material and it had not defamed Mr Defteros.

It submitted that the automation of its search engines meant it was not an intentional communicator of words or images, particularly if a user clicked through to another website.

Justice Richards rejected this in her ruling today.

“The Google search engine … is not a passive tool,” she wrote in her 98-page judgement.

“It is designed by humans who work for Google to operate in the way it does, and in such a way that identified objectionable content can be removed, by human intervention.

“I find that Google becomes a publisher of the search results that its search engine returns to a user who enters a search query.”

She also found that providing the hyperlink within the search results “amounted to publication of the webpage”.

Unfortunately, they can still get away with their curated weaponization with complete impunity in the USA thanks to the federal laws that let them do the publisher-not publisher dance and state laws that let them use anti-SLAAP laws to impose costs on their victims.