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B.C. YouTuber ordered to pay $350K for 'relentless' online defamation campaign

Undated photo of a person opening the YouTube app (Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels) Undated photo of a person opening the YouTube app (Photo by freestocks.org from Pexels)
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An "unrepentant" YouTuber has been ordered to pay $350,000 in damages as compensation for a "relentless" campaign of defamation waged online against a business owner and his company, the B.C. Supreme Court has ruled.

The decision in the case was handed down Tuesday.

Vuong Pham is the CEO of a U.S.-based company that does business as Fastboy Marketing, providing sales and marketing services to nail and beauty salons. He launched a claim against B.C.-based professional YouTuber Phil Dong in 2022.

"This case is somewhat unusual, given the sheer volume of alleged defamatory speech that is the subject matter of the claim," Justice Amy Francis wrote in her decision.

Starting in 2021, Dong began posting videos about Pham and his business to his YouTube channels – of which he has 12 – as well as other platforms. He posted multiple times nearly every day for many months, according to the decision.

The posts and videos referred to Pham, his company and his associates as – among other things – "money launderers, human traffickers, scammers, thieves, and fraudsters," the judge said.

But Pham told the court that the impact went far beyond the posts and videos themselves.

"The defamatory statements went viral on the internet and have been accessed, downloaded and read by many persons all over the world. They have spurred an online mob to rally against Mr. Pham and his company, which has led to threats of violence and in-person harassment of Mr. Pham and his family," the decision said.

The judge also noted that Dong continued posting even as the court case was underway and despite an injunction ordering him to stop, leading to his arrest and ultimate conviction for contempt of court last year.

'Profound' impact of the defamation

At trial, the judge noted, Dong "pled no defences at all."

Francis said she had "no trouble" determining that the statements were defamatory and that Dong was liable for damages.

The defamation in the case, the judge said, warranted an award at the high end of the scale given both the content and frequency of the videos and posts.

"The defamatory statements made by Mr. Dong were serious and relentlessly repeated. He posted videos, sometimes multiple times a day, in which he accused Mr. Pham and Fastboy of various forms of criminal wrongdoing. In particular, the oft-repeated allegations of fraud and money laundering were serious and baseless," the decision said.

"Mr. Dong did not restrict his statements to Mr. Pham and Fastboy. He made disparaging remarks about Mr. Pham’s wife and Mr. Pham’s lawyer. Mr. Dong’s incendiary posts were calculated and sustained, and spread over multiple YouTube channels."

Online defamation, the judge said, generally has a bigger impact on one's reputation than other forms given that the statements can be shared and repeated easily and frequently. In this case, the judge said, Dong's videos garnered tens of thousands of views and his channels had more than 200,000 subscribers and their reach was global.

The impact on Pham, his business and his life was, the judge said, both "profound" and "damaging." After one of Dong's videos urged people to boycott the company, contracts were cancelled. As the campaign continued, employees started to quit.

"The impact on Fastboy was huge. As Mr. Pham testified, 'I have been building a business since I was nineteen and I watched it crumble around me,'” the decision says.

The online defamation also led to real-life harassment, the decision says, adding that Pham and his wife have been threatened and ridiculed in their community and while grocery shopping.

"His sense of safety—and the safety of his family—has been compromised," the judge said.

Weighing these factors – along with Dong's "total lack of contrition" – Francis awarded $250,000 in general damages.

'Highly reprehensible'

Dong was also ordered to pay $50,000 in aggravated damages. In order to make that award, the judge had to determine that his conduct had been motivated by "actual malice," which Francis found to be the case.

"The nature and scope of his single-minded defamatory campaign is such that I can only conclude that Mr. Dong was motivated by an unjustifiable intention to injure Mr. Pham," she wrote.

An additional $50,000 in punitive damages was also awarded in order to denounce Dong's behaviour and to deter others from engaging in similar campaigns.

"Mr. Dong’s conduct was, by any standard, outrageous. He appeared to have no qualms about inciting an internet mob against an innocent man and his young family through a campaign of falsehoods and half-truths," Francis wrote.

"To do so was clearly profitable to Mr. Dong. He, like many social media personalities, understood that he could get more subscribers and views, and therefore more income, by saying increasingly scandalous things. He appears to this day to be untroubled about the fact that the things that he said were not true. This behaviour is highly reprehensible."

Permanent injunction granted

The judge also granted a permanent injunction meant to prevent Dong from further defaming Pham and his business.

That, Francis said, may end up being the only substantive relief to come out of the case.

"Mr. Dong transferred his home to his wife’s name after the (interim) injunction order was made. In a YouTube video released shortly after the (interim) injunction order, he claimed to be homeless, to have no car, and to have no money in his bank account," the judge wrote.

"There is a real possibility that the plaintiffs will not be able to enforce the monetary judgment against Mr. Dong."

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