Just in case you are not suspicious enough about the news that you read, here’s a potential cautionary tale about reporting of news from foreign countries. Most of you will doubtless be aware of the case earlier this week in which some Google executives were found guilty by an Italian court in a case involving an uploaded video of a boy being bullied. But how much of the reporting was done by people who neither speak Italian nor understand the Italian legal system? Indeed, how much of the reporting was based on Google’s own press release? Here’s an Italian view of the case from Marco Cantu.
The first thing to note is that Google was found not guilty of the charge of “defamation”. That means, as I understand it, that they were not held responsible for the content of the video.
Secondly, the Google press release states that they removed the video, “within hours of being notified by the Italian police”. That’s true. But TechCrunch says, “Google removed the video within hours of being notified of its existence”; and the BBC says, “Google’s lawyers said that the video was removed as soon as it was brought to its attention.” According to Marco, these statements are not true. He says that it took several weeks of complaints by users of the site and charities before anything was done, and Google only acted when the police became involved.
Finally there is the question as to what Google’s staff have been found guilty of. The charge with a guilty verdict is a “privacy violation”. What this means is apparently not clear. According to Marco the judge has thus far only issued a verdict. He has given no reasoning behind it, but it could simply turn on a technicality such as whether the Google site warned users that uploading pictures of minors without permission is a crime in Italy. If that is the case then the sentence does seem draconian, and will probably get reduced on appeal.
The whole case does seem to be very messy, and Italy’s Internet laws appear to be rather odd (see Crooked Timber), but we should maybe suspend our outrage until the judge has explained his decision, and always be very careful about what we read in the media.