Another day, another jerk using the legal system to silence valid criticism by threatening to file or actually filing a defamation lawsuit. Previously in this series I’ve covered Kevin David versus Coffeezilla for reporting on his financial “guru” plagiarizing scam, Nicole Prause versus me for reporting on her bullying tactics, Lawrence Lessig versus the New York Times for reporting on his defense of taking money from Jeffrey Epstein, Richard Carrier versus pretty much anyone who said they think he’s a creep, Ben Radford versus me for reporting on allegations that he sexually harassed someone, and of course the British Chiropractic Association versus Simon Singh for reporting on the lack of evidence for their “treatments,” a case that led directly to a successful campaign to modify English libel law to stop quacks from bankrupting people with frivolous lawsuits filed there.
I didn’t get around to making a video on it, but I recently learned about the ongoing legal difficulties of Jordan Shanks-Markovina, aka Friendlyjordies, an Australian YouTuber who makes videos exposing corruption in Australian politics. He’s been particularly focused on John Barilaro, the (now former) Deputy Premier of New South Wales, who he called “a corrupt conman” who had siphoned funds from the local council and blackmailed councilors, amongst other allegations. Barilaro successfully sued Shanks-Markovina and Google (for hosting the videos), winning $750,000 from Google and an apology from Shanks-Markovina. Shanks-Morkovina documented the difficulty he had even getting served with that lawsuit and learning why exactly he was being sued, which did make me wonder how bad Australia is for defamation lawsuits.
A new defamation lawsuit has made me realize that oh, yeah, Australia is really fucking bad at defamation law. Apparently once England slightly improved their situation, that left Australia as the holder of the title “Defamation Capital of the World,” because a complete and utter quack named Farrah Agustin-Bunch, aka “Dr. Farrah,” is suing Dr. Adam Smith in Australian courts because he criticized her for PRESCRIBING POTATOES TO CURE CANCER.
Look, even though I constantly rail against the use of defamation cases to silence criticism, I accept that sometimes it’s not quite black and white. Ironically, the DMCA takedowns and lawsuit threats I got from Nicole Prause were because I begrudgingly admitted that the pseudoscientists suing her for defamation kind of seemed to have a good case. Sometimes things are complicated!
This does not appear to be one of those times.
Smith is a doctor who works in Australia, but thanks to his Filipino fiance he has become fluent in Tagalog. He and his fiance noticed that social media was rife with medical misinformation targeted at Filipinos, with bogus products like oils that claim to treat paralysis and tuberculosis. So, they started making videos in Tagalog hoping to educate people and stop them from being taken advantage of.
Dr. Farrah lives here in the US but is one of the quacks targeting Filipinos, recommending garlic to treat cancer, chilis to treat heart attacks, and her own product “Boston C” to treat Lymphoma and other medical conditions. So, Smith and his fiance made a few videos debunking her, which led her to file a lawsuit in Australian courts claiming that these videos were defamatory.
Unfortunately for Dr. Farrah, Smith has unequivocal video evidence of her pretty clearly offering her products, like “Fairydust” (which is just magnesium) to treat cancer, as well as other disorders like shoulder pain. Usually these quacks try to be careful about using words like “cure,” or even “cancer,” but Dr. Farrah doesn’t seem to have any such concern.
In his response to the lawsuit, Smith says he also has evidence that a woman with early-stage colon cancer went to Dr. Farrah who told her she ACTUALLY had stage 4 breast cancer, but to treat it she should ““blend a fresh potato with a clear liquid product, fashion it into a patch” and place the patch on lumps in her breast and armpit.” According to Smith, the woman later died of “secondary malignant neoplasm of the large colon and rectum, among other contributing factors including breast malignancy.” That’s just one of several victims that Smith says support his point that Dr. Farrah is dangerous.
He’s also supported by the US FDA, who shut down the Dr. Farrah Bunch Natural Medical Center in the Philippines in 2018 for selling “unregistered health products” to thousands of desperate patients, many of whom had cancer. In 2021, the FDA gave her another warning that her websites and social media posts are in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act because of a ridiculously long list of bullshit claims, like “…Boston C was demonstrated to be highly effective against numerous cancer cell lines….” and “Micronutrients effectively control multiple steps in breast cancer” and “Vitamin C May Combat Cancer & Ease Cancer Treatment.”
Now, I live in California, and while it’s still incredibly stressful whenever I’m threatened with a defamation lawsuit, it’s nice to know that we have a strong anti-SLAPP law here. SLAPP stands for “strategic lawsuits against public participation,” meaning lawsuits meant to silence criticism, and an anti-SLAPP law is intended to stop them from bankrupting defendants. The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press explains that “To challenge a SLAPP suit in California, defendants must show that they are being sued for “any act . . . in furtherance of the person’s right of petition or free speech under the United States Constitution or the California Constitution in connection with a public issue.”” If a judge decides that yes, this is a blatant attempt to curb free speech, they will immediately throw out the lawsuit and force the plaintiff to pay any fees incurred by the defendant in answering the lawsuit.
Australia, unfortunately, has very weak anti-SLAPP laws, along with other legislation that makes it very easy for people to file frivolous litigation that silences critics. For instance, even the UK now has a “reportage” defense that allows media outlets to report on potentially defamatory statements made by others if the subject is in the public interest. Australia has no such defense. Australian law also doesn’t require that a plaintiff prove that the defendant’s statement was false and that the defendant KNEW the statement they made was false, something required everywhere in the US. Instead, the burden is entirely placed on the person defending themselves to PROVE that what they said was true – the exact opposite of the burden of proof that we all assume to be correct in criminal cases, which is innocent until proven guilty.
For all these reasons, this ridiculous lawsuit has utterly upended Smith’s life. He and his fiance have spent so much money on lawyers in the past two years that they’ve been unable to afford their wedding. And money aside, this kind of thing is just extremely stressful. As the case drags on, Smith now thinks his costs could top $2 million – that seems like a large amount, but a case that wrapped up in 2021 cost each side over a million dollars, with a final judgment of only $280,000. The longer this all drags out, the more it will cost, and even if Smith wins he has absolutely no guarantee of being made whole.
If that angers you, I suggest you do a few things: first, if you live in Australia, consider pestering your politicians to support real reform on defamation law, and not “reform” like former prime minister Scott Morrison’s attempt to make an “anti-trolling” law that actually would have made things WORSE somehow.
And wherever you live, you can head over to Smith’s GoFundMe to help him out or subscribe to his channel to show him a bit of support.