An Australian boy has launched legal action against a newspaper columnist who alleged he had faked distress after being bullied for his dwarfism.
Quaden Bayles, who was born with achondroplasia, was filmed by his mother earlier this year saying “I just want to die” in a video which attracted widespread attention on social media and was viewed millions of times.
The footage led to an outpouring of support from celebrities, including from comedian Brad Williams, who set up a fundraising page for the young boy to go to Disneyland which raised more than 300,000 Australian dollars (£165,000) in just a few days.
His mother, Yarraka Bayles, said the purpose of the video was to show “the effect that bullying has” and the family later pledged to give all the money raised for Quaden to charity.
But the Bayles family faced accusations from some quarters that they had staged the incident in order to scoop the donations that poured in from supporters.
Among those to make the claim was Australian columnist Miranda Devine, who retweeted a post from Twitter user @bubblebathgirl claiming that Quaden was an actor and the footage of him sobbing was not genuine.
Ms Devine said: “That’s really rotten if this was a scam. Hurts genuine bullying victims.”
The News Corp employee later posted a Tweet saying that she had shared her initial retweet of the theory with “caution”, but also alleged that Quaden’s mother had been “coaching the kid to say those things that no nine-year-old would say”.
Picking up on Ms Devine’s comments, the Bayles family filed a defamation lawsuit against the columnist and her employer, News Corp Australia, last Friday, local media reported.
The statement of claim says Ms Devine’s Tweet was defamatory because it carried the imputations that Quaden had “dishonestly acted out being distressed in a video to obtain money from donors” and that he had dishonestly pretended to be the victim of bullying, thereby hurting genuine victims of bullying”, the Guardian newspaper reported, citing documents lodged in the federal court on Monday.
It also implied that his mother had “posted online a video of her son knowing it falsely depicted him as being distressed, to get donations” and that she had “dishonestly coached her son to pretend to be distressed to get donations”.
Ms Devine and News Corp Australia are yet to file a legal defence to the legal action, local media reported.