Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Analysis: Italian Decision Could Help Traditional Media Orgs

Posted by Tom Foremski - February 24, 2010

John Hooper reports in The Guardian: Google executives convicted in Italy over abuse video

Google responded furiously today after an Italian court found three of its executives guilty of violating the privacy of a child with autism who was shown being bullied in a video posted on its site.

...The case has potentially vast implications for the future of the internet. Hosting platforms such as Facebook and YouTube argue that they cannot be held responsible for content created by their users until they are informed that something is illegal. The Italian prosecutors contended that Google was negligent in not removing the video sooner.

Foremski's Take: There's a justifiable uproar within the international Internet community over this ruling. Jeff Jarvis over at BuzzMachine writes that this "kills the Internet."

...no one will let anyone put anything online because the risk is too great. I wouldn't let you post anything here. My ISP wouldn't let me post anything on its servers. Google wouldn't let me post anything on it's services.

That's not true.

Things could be posted but they would have to be vetted first. Who's good at vetting content? Media organizations.

For example, pick up a newspaper. Everything in that newspaper has gone through an editorial process that has involved many people. And that's what makes that content valuable but also expensive to produce.

In online media, the economics are terrible. Online ads can't cover the costs of a large editorial operation. That means the more user generated content you can get, such as YouTube's hosting of other people's videos, the better.

Traditional media organizations are at a big disadvantage in the online world because of their large editorial teams. But that's precisely what you need now in Italy. You need editors to check any content posted online, to moderate comments as they do in "letters to the editor," etc.

I would think that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi should be quite happy with the judge's decision. From Wikipedia:

Berlusconi is the proprietor of three analogue television channels, various digital television channels, as well as some of the larger-circulation national news magazines. Together these account for nearly half the Italian market.

I doubt if the judges' ruling will stand because this would keep Italy's Internet sector out of step with the rest of the world. But it does show the value that professional media organizations provide to society. They would not have shown a video of a disabled boy being bullied unless it was part of an investigation.

But Google didn't see anything wrong with that video, even when, as The Guardian reported, the video "had shot to the top of the most-viewed list and been a subject of heated controversy."

Yes, the ruling is over the top but let's not forget that Google should bear some social responsibility in this case. And if that means hiring people to stay on top of these types of videos being uploaded, then it should do it.

I'm not saying the Italian ruling is a just one, but it does raise an important question of how much social responsibility should we ask of our Internet companies. We expect our other institutions to behave responsibly but not our Internet companies? That's not right.

It's a bit much for Google to argue that this ruling "attacks the very principles of freedom on which the internet is built."

The freedom to broadcast the video of a disabled boy being beaten and insulted? Really?


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