UN Advisor Tells Italy To Drop Its Terrible 'Fake News' Law Before It Does Any Real Damage

from the assembly-line-for-vehicles-of-censorship dept

Italy is rolling out new laws to deal with “fake news.” The Italian government can’t define this term precisely, but apparently assumes it will know it when it sees it. And the rest of the country is encouraged to “see something, say something,” thanks to the government’s online portal which will allow brigaders and hecklers to cleanse the web of things they don’t like. Even if some of it stays up, those reported will possibly still have to spend some time interacting with government employees, which will mostly be a waste of everyone’s time.

And that’s just the bureaucratic side of it. This portal will link to law enforcement so Italy’s uniformed cyberwarriors can go harass citizens over alleged fakery the government can’t even clearly define. There’s nothing like settling discussions about factual misconceptions with shows of force from government reps.

Seeing as the problem will get a whole lot worse before it devolves into just another tool of government oppression, UN Special Rapporteur David Kaye has fired off a formal letter to the Italian government, asking it to nuke its plan to tackle fake news with armed officers and government mandates.

The letter [PDF] points out the Italian government is, in essence, criminalizing differences of opinion. That’s not going to keep it in line with internationally-recognized human rights.

The Human Rights Committee has emphasized that “free communication of information and ideas about public and political issues between citizens, candidates and elected representatives is essential. This implies a free press and other media able to comment on public issues and to inform public opinion without censorship or restraint. Moreover, international human rights law provides States’ responsibility to ensure an environment in which a diverse range of political opinions and ideas can be freely and openly expressed and debated. Freedom of expression also includes sharing one’s beliefs and opinions with others who may have different opinions. In the Joint Declaration on Freedom of Expression and “Fake News”, Disinformation and Propaganda, my mandate together with other regional freedom of expression experts stressed that the “human right to impart information and ideas is not limited to “correct” statements, and “protects information and ideas that may shock, offend, and disturb”.


In light of these standards, the Joint Declaration on Freedom of expression and “Fake News” has concluded that “general prohibitions on the dissemination of information based on vague and ambiguous ideas, including “false news” or “nonobjective information” are incompatible and should be abolished.

Further driving this point home, Kaye states the cold hard fact that laws like these, however well-intended, end up being vehicles of a particular brand of censorship.

The lack of clarity concerning how the Protocol would operate, coupled with the threat of criminal sanctions, raises the danger that your Excellency’s Government will become arbiters of truth in the public and political domain. Accordingly, I am concerned that the Protocol would disproportionately suppress a wide range of expressive conduct essential to a democratic society, including criticism of the government, news reporting, political campaigning and the expression of unpopular, controversial or minority opinions.

Every law that curtails speech ends up being abused by the government that put it into effect. There are no exceptions. As is noted here, laws like these allow the government to decide what speech is acceptable using vague guidelines that effectively allow it to suppress dissent and criticism. There’s no way to narrowly craft a law aimed at regulating a certain form of speech (“fake news”) that has zero chance of ever being universally and concisely defined.

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Comments on “UN Advisor Tells Italy To Drop Its Terrible 'Fake News' Law Before It Does Any Real Damage”

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Anonymous Coward says:

i thought this sort of crap died when Mussolini did? perhaps Italy is not so ‘democratic’ after all? but then, which contries are nowadays? almost every one of them are introducing laws that removes privacy, freedom of speech, freedom from the public, while bringing in the rights for governments to spy, to invade, arrest, detain and lock citizens up for the smallest of ‘crimes’, including that most heinous sin, copyright infringement!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Propaganda, outright lies, lies of omission and the all too familiar fake news should all be addressed with the facts – backed up by data and evidence analyzed by those knowledgeable in the field.

I realize that countering every excessive juvenile rant is near impossible but this silly law will do no better.

Anonymous Coward says:

the slow growing cancer of "minor" censorship

Of course this will start out with only the most egregiously and malevolently fake news getting targeted, because very few people will complain about the suppression of THAT kind of speech. And people will be assured that the law will never, ever, ever, be abused (because this time will be different!).

It shouldn’t surprise us. This kind of censorship started long ago with Europe’s so-called “hate speech” laws and has slowly and continuously expanded due to the increasingly broad definition of “hate”. Now the addition of “fake news” to the banned speech list was a logical outgrowth of that censorship regime with its well-oiled enforcement machine.

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