The Italian Job

There was always that one person in your class that ruined it for everyone else. You know, the one who took advantage of a privilege that the class had been given, and abused it, and thus everyone lost said privilege. Of course, classrooms are monarchies, and that is the price for abusing the monarch’s trust.

Even worse is the occurrence of a similar phenomenon outside of a monarchical setting, when someone with poor taste or no common sense abuses the freedom due all men and women, and governments become involved with all of their bureaucracies and laws. And, as we know, once the bureaucracies become involved, common sense takes its leave.
That’s what I think has happened with an Italian court’s ruling that executives from Google are criminally responsible for permitting a video to be uploaded to a Google video service (a predecessor to YouTube) that involved the bullying of a disabled youth. Google claims to have removed the offending video within two hours of receiving an official complaint, but certain executives are nonetheless guilty of breaching what the Italian judge apparently felt is a legal duty to filter out such content before it is was permitted to be viewable on their video hosting engine (the actual conviction was for violating privacy laws).

As this op-ed piece from CNN aptly articulates, this is where Americans have become used to our freedom of speech. The expectation of this Italian judge is just as ludicrous as the offending video was (apparently…I didn’t view it) reprehensible. Google provides a medium for content to be posted and opinions to be expressed. They cannot be held responsible for the content posted to their medium, and cannot be expected to pre-approve every video or blog post that is uploaded to their services. Neither can any other video host or blog engine. Google acted responsibly to remove the video once notified, as they should have. However, they are no more responsible for the video that ignorant and uncultured bullies posted than they would be if I went on some complaining tirade against government policies in this blog (I think that’s still legal). I am responsible for what I write, not Blogger. The persons filming their depraved acts and posting them are responsible for their video, not Google or YouTube. America has a law known as Section 230. This leads to what Jeff Jarvis refers to as the “lowest common denominator” endangering the Internet for all  of us. The worst conceived ruling makes it too dangerous for any social network, blog host, or other platform to take the legal or financial risk of permitting users such as you and I to post anything to their services. Thus, freedom of speech is crippled if not dead, and with it freedom of inquiry, freedom of thought, and artistic expression. This leads to further social depravity, and does not move us forward.

The Internet has become so indispensable to the social development, global awareness, and business functions of the world that it is very nearly a right of every human being to have access (your local library likely provides access to the Internet free of charge alongside the world’s literature). Short-sighted rulings like this one from Italy seem to be a way to strike back blindly to find recompense for the wrong done to an individual, without stopping to consider the damage that can be done with such large brushstrokes.

Such is life in a world with attorneys. Permit me to say, if I might be so bold, that making something illegal doesn’t always fix the problem. And, sometimes, it leaves a bigger problem in its wake.

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