A young Queensland boy featured in a viral video about being bullied over his condition of dwarfism has launched a defamation lawsuit against News Corp columnist Miranda Devine and the media giant.
Quaden Bayles, then 9, made global headlines in February when his mother posted a video of him crying after being bullied at school.
He lives with achondroplasia, a common form of dwarfism, and reveals in the video – viewed by millions of people – his mental health struggles.
In court filings seen by The New Daily, the statement of claim by Quaden and his mother Yarraka Bayles – who is separately suing the the publisher and its columnist – allege tweets by Devine had “defamatory imputations”.
Sydney barrister Sue Chrysanthou and law firm Centennial Lawyers will allege the social media posts had implied the boy had “dishonestly acted out being distressed in a video to obtain money from donors”.
In court documents, the lawyers allege that Quaden’s mother was also defamed because the tweets suggested she engaged in “child abuse” by “dishonestly [coaching]” her son.
The case is certain to raise questions about who is responsible for social media posts, with the family’s lawyers claiming that while News Corp argued Devine’s account was “personal”, the company is liable as a “publisher” and because Devine’s Twitter account “directed people to follow” The Daily Telegraph.
“The applicants have been greatly injured in their reputations, have suffered hurt to feelings and have been and will be brought into public disrepute, odium, ridicule and contempt,” the lawyers allege.
News Corp Australia did not respond to comment from The New Daily by the time of publishing on Wednesday night, and the company is yet to mount a defence to the allegations.
Devine, a well-known News Corp columnist currently living in the US, had initially tweeted a video in February to her 71,000 followers.
It was followed up with two tweets.
According to the court documents, Devine responded to one account thanking her for “sharing and finding out the truth” and lamenting “I just can’t grasp how truly evil this is”.
It’s alleged Devine wrote: “And coaching the kid to say those things that no nine year old would say.”
According to tweets included in the court documents, the same user replied with: “it’s a crime if it is a scam. Child abuse. How could any parent do this?”.
The court documents allege Devine responded to that post: “Yep. Exactly. On the case.”
The Bayles allege Devine’s tweets inferred Quaden “had dishonesty pretended to have been the victim of bullying, thereby hurting genuine victims of bullying”.
Devine is accused of failing to immediately delete the tweets despite receiving a notice of reason email on March 4, and further, it is alleged she did not immediately apologise or withdraw the allegations.
When other Twitter users complained to Devine that the video was false, she responded on February 26 that she had been the victim of a “disinformation campaign”, the court documents state.
In the filings, it’s claimed News Corp Australia lawyers responded to the initial complaint by saying Devine’s account was “self-evidently a personal account and is published by Twitter”.
The Bayles are seeking damages, including aggravated damages, and an injunction to restrain similar publications.
Earlier this year, a GoFundMe set up by US comedian Brad Williams to send Quaden to Disneyland raised more than $450,000.
But the family decided against the trip and instead donated the money to six US and Australian charities.
The decision to forgo the Disneyland trip came after false conspiracy theories about Quaden’s age went viral on Twitter.
News outlets such as the New York Post – a News Corp publication to which Devine has been seconded – had published articles that cast doubt over the boy’s age, and whether he had been bullied at school.
In February, Williams said the bullying towards people with dwarfism was similar to other forms of discrimination.
“A lot of it comes from the same place where a lot of racism comes from, where it’s just a matter of ignorance, where people aren’t familiar with people who are different,” Williams said.
“So when they see someone who has dwarfism or something that they’re not familiar with, and they’re unsure of, the first instinct, very sadly, is to attack.”