A controversial far-right activist has pulled out of a legal fight with Facebook’s fact-checking service after claiming it defamed him by accusing him of spreading misinformation.
Internet journalist Avi Yemini went to the County Court of Victoria seeking damages from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology for an article published in August last year, titled “Shrine of Remembrance CEO did not fabricate safety threats against staff”.
The RMIT Fact Lab story — which did not name Mr Yemini — claimed “far-right activists accused Shrine of Remembrance CEO Dean Lee of fabricating stories about threats to staff safety without providing any sound evidence”.
“The rainbow light display at the Shrine’s colonnades was scheduled for Sunday 31 July to recognise LGBTIQ+ military personnel, but the plan was criticised by conservative commentators and politicians who accused the display of politicising the memorial site,” the RMIT Fact Lab article read.
“The display was cancelled after staff received threats to their safety. Victoria Police told RMIT Fact Lab they were investigating the correspondence received by staff”.
The article referenced a Facebook video which was viewed 34,000 times and showed the activist speaking to a security guard in front of the Shrine.
When asked about the threats, the guard was heard saying they’re “actually not threats, they’re just hate mail”.
The Fact Lab article explained the video ended with the words: “As suspected, there were no threats. That should be the headline now across the country — that the CEO of the war memorial is fabricating stories to garner support from the wider community to the fact that he’s a political hack, using the shrine for his own political agenda”.
According to RMIT Fat Lab, a leading senior constable with Victoria Police confirmed with its team detectives were investigating correspondence received by staff at the Shrine of Remembrance.
It also quoted Shrine of Remembrance marketing manager Sue Curwood saying threats were made against staff, the building, and to disrupt the service, causing them to report the incidents to police.
Mr Yemini was not happy about the article.
His statement of claim filed to court outlinepricd how Facebook blocked people from viewing his video — which was titled “WATCH: Police confirm shrine LIED about threats — with a message reading “independent fact-checkers say this information has no basis in fact”.
He alleged the article which led to the video being blocked was defamatory by implying he lacks credibility and is a “sloppy and inaccurate journalist” due to “lying about the existence of threats made against Shrine staff when that was not the case”.
Mr Yemini claimed damages, aggravated damages, interest and costs.
Court documents reveal RMIT relied on a truth defence by referencing the threats Shrine of Remembrance staff received, including an email with the words “TikTock MOFOS” which staff took to mean the clock is ticking down to impending danger, a phone call with the media manager in which an anonymous man said they better “watch their backs” and an expletive-ridden Facebook comment calling on people to “duke it out on the streets”.
The defence document also outlined vile messages discovered on the messaging app Telegram, which discussed the plan for LGBTIQ+ lights, including: “these p***ks need to be hung”, “bring back the rubber bullets” and “you Aussies need to start chopping heads off”.
As well as direct threats to people, the Telegram chat included threats to disrupt the planned event by calling on people to “tear down” and “smash” the lights.
It also claimed Mr Yemini’s conduct as a journalist in the preparation of an incorrect and fabricated story was sloppy and inaccurate.
It alleged he relied on uncorroborated information from a single source (an unnamed Protective Services Officer) and that he lacks credibility as he does not hold an academic qualification in journalism or a membership with any professional association for journalists.
“(Mr Yemini) failed to make any formal inquiries via appropriate channels with relevant persons employed at the Shrine who had or were likely to have direct knowledge of the existence of threats and the nature of those threats, in particular, Lee and the Shrine’s media manager, Sue Curwood,” RMIT’s defence stated.
On Monday, Judge Julie Clayton dismissed the proceedings — and Mr Yemini gave his explanation for this result in a video posted on his YouTube channel, RebelNews Australia.
In the video, he claimed RMIT “could not provide any actual evidence of real threats”.
“At the 11th hour, they remembered a phone call they claim consisted of a threat. But our legal team explained that since we claim that they’re the ones lying, the onus falls on us to prove that no threat was made in the said call, which we obviously can’t,” Mr Yemini said.
“We had to withdraw due to the risk of losing the case and having to pay costs on top”.
Despite the backflip, Mr Yemeni said he does not “for a single second” regret launching the legal case because he’s “exposed the fact-checking industry”.
“However, you must choose our battles wisely. Trusting our top legal team, it isn’t cheap to pick fights and even more expensive to lose,” he said.