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Instagram influencer fined $300,000 for abusing rival

A Sydney food blogger’s campaign of “tremendous ferocity and insult” towards a rival Instagram identity has cost him more than $300,000 after a defamation trial.

Photo: AP/Michael Dwyer

Photo: AP/Michael Dwyer

In the first matter to proceed to trial under reformed defamation law, the NSW District Court found Fouad Najem caused serious harm to a man he’d never met by falsely calling him, among other things, a pedophile and racist.

Issac Martin – a 31-year-old known as Sir Eats-A-Lot to his 300,000 Instagram followers – said the posts left him turning down jobs and avoiding certain areas of Sydney out of fear he would be assaulted.

“The extreme nature of the allegations is an important factor,” Judge Judith Gibson said on Monday.

“There are few more hated criminals in Australia than paedophiles. They are not even safe in gaol. To call a person a paedophile is at or near the top of the list of serious allegations. Allegations of being a racist are repugnant, but not in the same class.”

Najem denied his four videos from April had the capacity to convey the meanings alleged or that they caused serious harm but raised no substantive defences, the court said.

While represented in pre-trial matters, he did not serve any evidence or attend the trial to defend the allegations.

In one video, using images of Martin’s promotional work for the NRL Indigenous All Stars match, the plaintiff was called a “pedo dog” and a racist dog whose habit is “attacking Muslims” and who “hates multiculturalism”, the court was told.

Judge Gibson said the “most disturbing aspect” of the “campaign of tremendous ferocity and insult” was Najem’s call-to-arms to supporters, insulting Martin and his wife in such a manner as to dehumanise him.

Najem directly contacted Martin to tell him he was “going to end (him)” and then told followers “I WANT EVERYONE TROLLING THIS C***”

“This is the pedagogy of hate,” the judge said.

Finding Najem’s motivation was to discredit a competitor and strong evidence of an extensive grapevine effect, Judge Gibson said Najem’s repetition of the claims as recently as October 9 could amount to serious harm in itself.

Martin complained to police and the Australian Cyber Security Centre in April before deciding to sue for defamation over the most severe statements.

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“When the police system didn’t work for us, I felt civil action was my last option to both restore my reputation (and) protect my family from such unnecessary attacks online,” Martin told AAP.

“To this date, no apology has ever been afforded to myself or my wife for the vile abuse and harassment he continued to share.

“I’m not sure he himself accepts that what he’s done is wrong yet.”

Martin said he struggled to cope with it as an adult and was concerned children had to deal with this type of behaviour daily.

“The argument it ‘wasn’t that bad’ isn’t good enough, because it wasn’t that bad until it was,” he said.

The court did not name Najem’s accounts so as to not draw further eyes to the claims that are “so sensational, abusive and profane that they should not be reproduced without the most compelling reasons”.

Martin was awarded $306,656 in damages, including aggravated damages and interest. Najem was also permanently restrained from repeating the claims.

The case is the first to proceed to trial since Australian defamation laws were reformed to weed out cases where legal costs outweighed damages. Plaintiffs are now required to show their reputation has suffered serious harm.

-AAP

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