Blogger awarded $60,000 in damages after winning defamation suit

The State Courts found that social media personality Vaune Phan had been defamed on four occasions last year. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - A blogger, who has been featured riding her motorcycle overseas various times by the media, was awarded $60,000 in damages after winning a defamation suit in the State Courts on Tuesday (Dec 15).

After a three-day trial, the court found that social media personality Vaune Phan had been defamed by Mr Mark Yeow on four occasions last year.

He had posted three defamatory statements on Facebook and had sent a separate one to a WhatsApp chat group, according to court documents.

Ms Phan was represented by lawyers Suresh Divyanathan and Cherisse Foo from Oon & Bazul LLP.

Mr Yeow, the chief mechanic at a motorcycle workshop and the operations director at another, was represented by lawyers Luo Ling Ling and Sharifah Nabilah from Luo Ling Ling LLC.

Among other things, he had insinuated that Ms Phan had lied during proceedings in the Small Claims Tribunal (SCT) over her dispute with another motorcycle workshop, Revology Bikes.

The blogger had claimed that Revology damaged her motorcycle when it reinstalled a camera that it had previously fixed on the vehicle.

In her SCT claim filed on Dec 21, 2018, she said there was a "sizeable gap" between the fairings and the body of the motorcycle after it was returned to her.

Ms Phan published a Facebook post on Dec 30 that year, with a link documenting the incident with Revology.

Court documents state that Mr Yeow published a series of comments on her post between Jan 5 and Jan 9 last year. He called her a "cheapskate", "freeloader" and "poser", among other things, and also accused her of cyber bullying.

In a Facebook post the next month, he questioned her integrity and her claim that Revology had caused the gap between the fairings and the body of her motorcycle.

He also tagged Ms Phan's past, present and potential sponsors, business partners and other motorcycle workshops in his post.

Mr Yeow subsequently included a link to the post in a message to a WhatsApp chat group, in which he also used the words "cheating" and "karma" in March that year.

In the same month, the SCT ordered Revology to pay the blogger $4,630 as compensation.

Mr Yeow later received a letter from Ms Phan's then lawyers, Parwani Law LLC, demanding that he remove his Facebook post and his Jan 5 comments.

But he commented about Ms Phan again in May last year, on a Facebook post by electronics company Samsung. The post was an advertisement for a new mobile phone and featured the blogger, who had been contracted to promote it.

Addressing Samsung with another Facebook account, he said the company "should do some homework and fact finding before hiring an influencer" and that there were plenty of capable individuals "who can show you what dirt biking means".

The advertisement was later removed, and Ms Phan's contract to promote the mobile phone was terminated.

On Tuesday, District Judge Wong Peck rejected Mr Yeow's claim that the blogger's popularity was already waning prior to the remarks being made, finding that she had an extensive online social media presence and that her reputation had been lowered by the statements.

The judge also said in her judgment that his remarks were not justified.

Among other things, she disagreed with his explanation that Ms Phan's behaviour had caused loss to Revology's business and was therefore "cyber bullying".

"As the SCT ruling stands and Revology has paid compensation to the plaintiff pursuant to such ruling, I disagree how such facts when made public can constitute cyber bullying," the judge added.

Noting Mr Yeow's attempts to prove that the blogger had lied during the SCT proceedings, she said: "My view is that it is not open to this court to examine the SCT decision and findings of fact."

Ms Vaune Phan (centre) with her lawyers Suresh Divyanathan (right) and Cherisse Foo outside the State Courts on Dec 15, 2020. PHOTO: VAUNE PHAN

The district judge also ordered Mr Yeow to pay legal costs to Ms Phan, as well as to take down his Facebook statements and refrain from making similar defamatory remarks against her again.

But the judge did not allow Ms Phan's claim for damages of $6,404 for the termination of her contract to promote the mobile phone, ruling that the blogger had not proven the termination was due to Mr Yeow's statements.

Thanking her lawyers in a statement to The Straits Times, Ms Phan said she was not suing for personal gain but to protect her reputation and the clients she works with.

"After recovery of my full legal costs, I will donate the remainder of the damages... to charity," she said.

Mr Yeow told ST that he intends to appeal against the decision.

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