Italy Proposes Law To Make Mocking People Online Illegal

from the what-a-stupid-fucking-law dept

Every so often, we see (probably) well-intentioned, but incredibly stupid, attempts to “fight” online harassment and bullying through laws that make saying things that are “offensive” against the law. In the US, such laws (if they actually get passed) are usually thrown out once someone makes a First Amendment challenge over them, but elsewhere in the world there’s no First Amendment to fall back on. Over in Italy, some officials have proposed what may be one of the dumbest such laws in history, written so broadly that it will outlaw a lot more than the kind of “cyberbullying” it’s supposedly intended to combat:

Under the proposed law, the “site manager” of Italian media, including bloggers, newspapers and social networks would be obliged to censor “mockery” based on “the personal and social condition” of the victim — that is, anything the recipient felt was personally insulting. The penalty for failing to take action is a fine of €100,000. Truthfulness is not a defense in suits under this law — the standard is personal insult, not falsehood.

Yes, mockery on the internet could get you a €100,000 fine. Mockery. The internet. The internet is made for mockery. And now is the time that everyone should be mocking this idiotic law — and the politicians who proposed it without having the slightest idea of how such a thing would be abused all the time. As Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing notes:

… what it will do is create a tool for easy censorship without due process or penalty for misuse. The standard proposed in the bill is merely that the person on the receiving end of the argument feel aggrieved. Think of the abuse of copyright takedowns: online hosts already receive millions of these, more than they could possibly evaluate, and so we have a robo-takedown regime that lets the rich and powerful routinely remove material that puts them in an unflattering light.

As bad as that is, at least it makes censorship contingent on something specific and objective: copyright infringement, which has a wealth of caselaw defining its contours. Indeed, so much that you need to be a trained expert to adjudicate a claim of infringement. But at least you can objectively assess whether a copyright infringement has taken place.

The standard set by the proposed Italian law allows for purely subjective claims to be made, and for enormous penalties to be imposed on those who question them before undertaking sweeping acts of censorship.

There are some efforts under way to “improve” the law by making it not quite so draconian, but maybe, just maybe, the “improvement” should be to recognize that you’re never going to successfully outlaw mockery on the internet.

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Comments on “Italy Proposes Law To Make Mocking People Online Illegal”

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DoItAsATestBedForTheRestOfUs says:


How would this look if enacted in the U.S.?

Well for one cable and broadcast news wouldn’t be racking in big bucks on all the mockery over the current presidential candidates. The news might actually have to focus on issues. Trump and Clinton wouldn’t get free air time to mock the other, they might actually have to focus on plans for their plans country. They both use copyrighted materials in their talking points…

I dunno, as much as free speech is praised, I don’t consider the news or the candidates as freely speaking as much as I consider the corporate and presidential hopefuls practicing a form of business speech which can be regulated (re: tobacco, hate speech, et)

I’d personally like to see Italy enact this and get the case studies of how well it worked, or how horribly it failed. It’s Italy, not North America, they don’t have the same court systems, they don’t have the same laws, I say let em run with it and see how far it goes…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: HowThisWouldLookIntheUSA

It is a tried and true method for getting gullible people to hand away all of their rights without much protest.

If I orchestrated a way to have your child kidnapped, then orchestrated the safe retrieval of your child despite you having lost much of your wealth, you would have profusely thanked me for it.

In many ways this is how government works EXACTLY! They are usually the cause of the problems to start with… and of course they will have a solution for it too, and a solution for the problems the new solution caused and yet again, solutions to the problem that the solution to the other problem caused as well.

Before you know it, there are so many laws throughout time that it is impossible to determine if you are free or just a sad prisoner living under the illusion that you are free because you still have the choice to buy a bag of beans to feed your family or a bag of rice.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: HowThisWouldLookIntheUSA

Consider that in America corporations have the right sue or be sued in court in the same way as natural persons. “Corporations are people, my friend.”

It wouldn’t just be auto-wins for Charles Carreon or Rakofsky v. the Internet or childish “reputation management consultants. Comcast, the MPAA and every major patent troll would Peter Thiel sites like TechDirt out of existence. AND you’d get the same bogus takedown claims by the millions that you get under the DMCA.

Jeremy says:

Re: HowThisWouldLookIntheUSA

How handy to define the kind of speech that you want to have regulated as ‘business speech’, as if businesses were not made up of…people. Ideas are ideas. Speech is speech. It doesn’t matter who’s doing it. As long as you’re not inciting to riot or shouting fire in a crowded movie theater FOR THE PURPOSE OF CAUSING A PANIC (it’s legal if you really think there’s a fire…), then it’s legal. The Founders knew how gov’ts tend to want to prohibit the right to free speech, so they gave us the 1st Amendment. No matter how offensive it is to others, it is legal. ‘Hate speech’ legislation is tyranny.

Anonymous Coward says:

Taking this list on the first page of the proposed law to be a list of all the people sponsoring or writing it:

If that’s true everyone on that list is a nit-witted buffoon who wouldn’t know good piece of legislation if gave you a paper cut between your fingers!

(To be explicitly clear, I am mocking you.
Per essere chiari , io ti sto prendendo in giro .)

mcherm (profile) says:

How I will use this law

I, for one, am looking forward to this law.

After all, the web page has for YEARS been mocking me. Many have said that the site has absolutely nothing to do with me, but in fact I am STRONGLY INSULTED by the subtle implications it makes about me (without actually naming me).

None of my previous attempts to get the site shut down have gone anywhere, but now that we have a law which is driven by *my feelings of personal insult* (rather than some “objective” test like falsity or actually mentioning me by name) I should be able to force them to take the page down.

Groaker (profile) says:

Italy has some interesting laws:

ROME — Seven prominent Italian earthquake experts were convicted of manslaughter on Monday and sentenced to six years in prison for failing to give adequate warning to the residents of a seismically active area in the months preceding an earthquake that killed more than 300 people.
— NYTimes

The six scientists were eventually found innocent by the Italian Supreme Court, however a government worker remained convicted, though with a lesser sentence.

Which of these cases is the worse of the two is an interesting question.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Never would have seen that coming...

Government idiots propose law outlawing mockery, results in massive wave of mockery aim at them.

Anyone who can’t handle people saying mean thing about them really isn’t mature enough to be in politics and/or interacting with the general public, and should probably take up solitary activities like reading books(simple ones of course, wouldn’t want to strain their limited mental capacity).

Joe says:

It's infantile.

In France, there is a syndicat for the distribution of books to bookstores. Anyone who believes that their book will offend the bien pensent enough simply publishes abroad.

Thank goodness for digital media, without which us louts would have no means of expression.

Under this regime, what Italians will simply do is make sure their servers are outside of the reach of Italian law, or in the EU where reciprocity would require it to be enforced.

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