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Luca Sofri

Luca Sofri

Posted: March 13, 2009 05:24 AM

In Italy, the Web is Going to Be a Really Dangerous Place

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Italy's mainstream media and politicians are very ignorant about the Internet and new technologies. They really are. The only thing everyone's been talking about in recent months is Facebook, easy to understand and useful to chat, publish pictures of your cat and find old schoolmates. The big community of web users and bloggers is still ignored in newsrooms and considered to be a bunch of kids and rebels by politicians. The Internet is in the news mainly for alarming headlines (pedophiles on the web! mafia on the web! identity thieves! terrorists trading bombs online! bullying at school shown online) or voyeuristic reasons (sex blogs, selling strange things on eBay, funny videos on YouTube). And then politicians and editors Google themselves and can't stand to be hammered and criticized in a way they've never known before.

This ignorance feeds off of itself: politicians read news and hurry to announce something must be done against this and that. In the last weeks Italian blogs have tried to explain the foolishness of two different laws planned by the current majority. One has been presented as a crackdown on pedophiles, but it really focuses on piracy and copyright issues: the lawyer and blogger Guido Scorza opened the file containing the text of the proposed law -- presented as written by MP Gabriella Carlucci -- and discovered it was actually drawn up by the president of the association of video publishers. The suggested law requires nearly every activity -- specifically uploads -- on the web not to be anonymous (how would they obtain it?) and would hold every provider, social network, website responsible for violations of that rule or any other in the pages they host.

The second matter is even more dangerous, since it's a bylaw in a broader bill. It gives any judge the power to ask providers to close or block webpages that applaud or approve crimes or contain hate speech. Last month there had been a lot of talk on traditional media about a few Facebook groups dedicated to mafia bosses, like the mafia didn't exist before Facebook (Facebook in Italy is now "the big thing", like Twitter in the US). Someone talked about a "communication strategy by the mafia". The bill requires providers or social networks to block such pages, or stand accused of the same crimes. Obviously, no rule explains or defines such crimes, so such a law can allow for any interpretation. Since this is part of a broader bill about many different important things, it is difficult to have it removed without blocking the whole bill. The law has already been voted on in one house of Parliament and it's headed for the second with good chances to succeed.

Some of those opposing this foolishness accuse politicians of trying to control the opposition by limiting freedom on the web, but I don't think they are that smart and I don't think that Italian bloggers are fighting a dictatorship like they were in Myanmar. Instead they are fighting human ignorance and arrogance. Not a big dark power but many small minds. Italian politicians simply don't know what they're talking about and what they're doing (and sadly, it's not just about the web): they look for publicity on people's ignorant fears and are obedient to economic interests smarter than them. They think they are the only ones in the world worried about what happens on the web, and don't ask anybody what the hell people are thinking in the other countries. They don't lift the phones and call one or two of the many experts about these things, because they fear them: they speak different languages, they live in different worlds and times. The MP who signed the law said in an interview that if Facebook or YouTube should not respect these rules, "they don't deserve the State's respect", and they should be "closed".
They're not bad people: they're worse.

 

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