Italy could break the Internet

Italy could shoot itself in the foot and seriously harm freedom of speech and the Internet according to Google, which recently saw three top execs convicted in absentee for content hosted briefly on YouTube which had nothing to do them.

David Drummond, Arvind Desikan, Peter Fleischer and George Reyes (who left Google in 2008) were all indicted, and all but Desikan were found guilty of violating Italy’s privacy laws yesterday, over a YouTube video of kids bullying another autistic kid. 

The execs were told they were criminally responsible for content posted to YouTube, even though Google removed the video just two hours after receiving an Italian police complaint, which itself had taken two months to notice the video. 

The Italian police, however, were not held responsible. And the kids who carried out the bullying (ironically, whom Google helped to identify) got only community service and not the suspended jail sentences slapped on the Google execs.

Google can, and will, appeal the decision on the basis that it is not a content provider, simply a content enabler, allowing people to use it as a tool and medium.

The firm vociferously denies that it is a “content provider,” like newspapers or television stations.

And in this case, most of the world happens to agree with Google, because could you imagine a world where Google was actually forced to decide which information it did or did not provide? You couldn’t? Well, lets just call it Google China. Ooops.

All joking aside, having Google monitor its content would be censorship of the Internet as we know it and a huge blow to freedom of speech and expression. 

And yes, we’re well aware that freedom of speech and expression can sometimes be ugly, but it’s less ugly than censorship, Mr Berlusconi, Prime Minister of Italy and owner of almost all of Italy’s private media. Ehem, cough.

Not to mention the fact that forcing Google to monitor every bit of text, image and video posted across its vast expanse would be somewhat impossible considering some 20hours of video are uploaded to YouTube alone every minute.

Also, why stop at Google? Perhaps Facebook or Twitter should also be made responsible for the banal and often questionable content posted by its users.

Juan Carlos de Martin, founder of the Nexa Center at Turin’s Polytechnic University told the New York Times Italy was making “a deliberate effort to control the means of communication,” something we call censorship in most other democratic countries.

Others, including the American ambassador have likened Italy’s move to something akin to shooting the messenger.

But perhaps it’s a bit much to expect Italy, a country with the lowest rate of Internet use and e-commerce in Europe to actually understand the principles of freedom the Internet bring into free citizens’ lives.

Or as Google succinctly sums it up, Italy, it’s this kind of nonsense that “attacks the very principles of freedom on which the Internet is built.”