Italian Government Criminalizes 'Fake News,' Provides Direct Reporting Line To State Police Force

from the let-a-bold-new-era-of-SWATing-begin! dept

No one knows how to handle "fake news." Rather than step back and see what light-touch approaches might work, governments all over the world are rushing forward with bad ideas that harm speech and threaten journalism. No one seems to be immune to the "do something" infection and everything proposed is just another way to give governments more direct control of social media platforms and news outlets.

In Italy, the government control of speech under the guide of "fake news" deterrence is being done in the worst way possible. It's not being handed to a regulatory body with instructions to sort of keep an eye on things. Instead, as Poynter reports, it's rolling out as a heckler's veto backed by armed officers.

In an effort to address fake news ahead of this year's elections, the Italian government has created an online portal where people can report hoaxes.

The portal, which Interior Minister Marco Minniti announced Thursday, prompts users to supply their email address, a link to the misinformation they're reporting and any social networks they found it on.

Then the requests are ferried to authorities at the Polizia Postale, a unit of the state police that investigates cyber crime, who will fact-check them and — if laws were broken — pursue legal action. In cases where no laws were broken, the service will still draw upon official sources to deny false or misleading information.

It seems as though this could be handled without government interference -- especially not the sort that might result in armed officers showing up at a press agency's HQ, demanding rebuttals, deletions, or arrests of fake news offenders. The government's anti-fake news effort even gives the government a platform for "more speech," which is all speech like this really needs to be greeted with.

Getting facts wrong should be a black eye (not literally!) for journalists, rather than a criminal offense. Fake news spread maliciously should be greeted with little more than fact checking and debunking. This can -- and should -- be handled by journalists and citizens. Giving the government a platform for debunking caters to its innate desire to control the narrative in questionable situations. The government is certainly welcome to present its own side and deliver facts that rebut claims made by others. But it doesn't need legislation to do this and it certainly does not need to bring law enforcement into the mix.

Adding to the host of problems is the fact that "fake news" hasn't been clearly defined by the government. True, the term resists strict definition, but the lack of discernible contours means the government can simply target any speech it doesn't like and force the issue by handing it over to the police force. The opening of an online portal invites further abuse by citizens who prefer shouting down people with opposing views, rather than engaging in constructive discussions.

Whenever the police is given the task of dealing with the truth and falsehood of news and political content, yes, those who care about democracy should be worried — not feel protected,” [journalist Fabio] Chiusi said. “Citizens in healthy democracies don’t need to be protected from falsehood of this sort: they should be able to freely exercise their judgment, with no interference from state authorities — especially the police.”

Arianna Ciccone, founder of the International Journalism Festival, agreed. She told Poynter in an email that the initiative — which Chiusi said doesn’t offer a counter-measure for those who might be falsely accused — opens up the possibility of future infringements of free speech by the government, as well as a potential cooling effect on the press.

In short: If journalists are too afraid that making a mistake will result in legal intervention, what will go uncovered?

Reporters will not only shy away from publishing articles while details are still emerging, but will also be deterred from publishing anything the government might disagree with. The term "fake news" has become shorthand for news anyone disagrees with, whether or not the contents are untrue. This gives the Italian government free rein to harass news outlets it doesn't like. Even if journalists are ultimately cleared of criminal charges, they'll be forced to spend time and money defending themselves and the outlets they work for will likely face future harassment from authorities. Once you're on law enforcement's radar, you're there forever. It's the newsroom equivalent of inner city life, where merely existing in a "high crime" area exposes you to constant, unprovoked "interactions" with law enforcement.

Normally, I'd say something like "the legislation's aim is noble," but in the case of governments v. fake news, that can't even be said. The term eludes strict definition which is the sort of thing you definitely need if you're going to regulate speech. Providing a direct pipeline to police mobilization is perhaps the worst "solution" presented so far. And as the anti-fake news effort picks up steam, the ripple effect will move beyond harassed journalists to every Italian citizen who's "liked" or retweeted social media posts deemed "fake news" by a law enforcement entity.


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  • identicon
    Blitherakt, 24 Jan 2018 @ 9:48am

    Unsurprising

    When the initial step in your thought process is: "There oughtta be a law," is it really surprising for the police to be the first called?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2018 @ 10:02am

      Re: Unsurprising

      > Blitherakt -- Pretty sure first time ever for this screen name, so my bet is more astroturfing.

      > Unsurprising -- That's typical Techirt.

      > When the initial step in your thought process is: "There oughtta be a law," is it really surprising for the police to be the first called? -- There ARE ALREADY laws which cover this, but part of purpose of laws is to make known the SPECIFIC behavior which will be punished. It's a statement by society. And usually, as here, after long and growing abuse by malicious little fiends.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      steve white, 24 Jan 2018 @ 11:04am

      Re: Unsurprising

      legislators make laws

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2018 @ 9:58am

    You can't shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater if that's A FALSE REPORT.

    Again, I challenge Masnick, minions, fanboys, and especially Poophat to ACTUALLY do that, not an arranged stunt, but intending to cause panic and fear. Have someone else stand back uploading it to Youtube, because YOU are going to jail, at the very least for disturbing the peace, interfering with legal activities of numerous people, and the theater's profits.

    Same principle here: FALSE IS ILLEGAL. (That's why Hillary and some FBI agents including Comey will be jailed.)

    Fake news has been illegal in EVERY civilization, even before "thou shalt not bear false witness."

    And WHY do you little fiends even WANT to allow "fake news"? ... Because you hate reality and want to destroy the little that's good.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2018 @ 10:27am

      Re: You can't shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater if that's A FALSE REPORT.

      If any of the people you mentioned actually yelled Fire in a crowded theater, it would almost certainly be considered a political statement and given even more first amendment protection that someone who did so randomly.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2018 @ 10:38am

      Re: You can't shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater if that's A FALSE REPORT.

      *Fake news has been illegal in EVERY civilization, even before "thou shalt not bear false witness."*

      How confident are you about that? If in even one civilization didn't make fake news illegal, then what you said is false, and therefor fake news, and so if we made fake news illegal (which we haven't disproving what you've stated) then you're fine with being hauled off to jail for that?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      orbitalinsertion (profile), 24 Jan 2018 @ 11:12am

      Re: You can't shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater if that's A FALSE REPORT.

      Interesting, considering fake news is not supported here. However, there are plenty of liars who shout "fake news!" at facts, which is a problem when accusations elicit a visit from police or arrest with no recourse.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2018 @ 11:26am

      Re: You can't shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater if that's A FALSE REPORT.

      Let’s start a pool. Which med is blue not taking this week? Is it the anti psychotics? The anti schizophrenics? Or just the plain old anti depressants?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2018 @ 11:40am

      Re: You can't shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater if that's A FALSE REPORT.

      If fake news is illegal then why is Fox News still on the air?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2018 @ 12:05pm

        Re: Re: You can't shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater if that's A FALSE REPORT.

        Funnily enough, it's not in Canada due to it being ruled not 'fake news' but rather not even 'news'.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2018 @ 6:44pm

      Re: You can't shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater if that's A FALSE REPORT.

      Again, I challenge...blah blah blah... especially Poophat... blah blah blah ....

      I challenge you to show us your law license.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2018 @ 11:05am

    "Rather than step back and see what light-touch approaches might work, governments all over the world are rushing forward with bad ideas that harm speech and threaten journalism."

    To protect you, we must take your liberty.

    ~All Governments

    Remember that the next time you go running to the nanny state to save you from something. It's a lesson many never learn.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Regret, 24 Jan 2018 @ 11:08am

    Could be worrisome, but these are Italian police

    Two Carabinieri are in front of a mirror.

    The first one says, "Look, two colleagues. Let's go say hello."

    The other says, "No, let's just wait. It looks like they're coming this way."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2018 @ 11:09am

    No one seems to be immune to the "do something" infection and everything proposed is just another way to give governments more direct control of social media platforms and news outlets.

    I'm pretty sure that's because giving government more direct control over social media and news outlets is the point of most of this. "Fake News" has been around a long time. It simply used to be called things like yellow journalism, propaganda, or gossip. Governments are only leaping to "do something" about it because now that it's called "fake news" a bunch of people are panicking and politicians see the chance to give themselves a mandate to censor media outlets old, new, or 'social'. They're hoping to publish enough people for gossiping on the internet, that when the next election roles around, everyone will fear to say anything bad about them, even if it's true.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2018 @ 11:17am

    Personally I think the best approach to any laws forbidding fake news is for people to report any and all government press releases and communications as fake news. Then report every corporate press release as fake news. Then report every school press release or bulletin for students as fake news. Then report every story of every news outlet as fake news. With luck, the ensuing quagmire should force some backpedaling and revision until the laws are repealed, or at least precisely defined.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PlagueSD (profile), 24 Jan 2018 @ 11:21am

    IF this law ever makes it to the United States, I think we can finally shut down Faux News!!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2018 @ 11:43am

      Re:

      It'll only shut down whatever news organizations the government at the time disapproves of. Imagine for a moment how it would go down if it were the president who ultimately made the decision of which news was fake?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2018 @ 11:21am

    Fake News

    Too bad this isn't adopted by the US. It would be a great way to finally get rid of Fox News for good as well as most of the conservative platforms out there. Then, where would Trump get all his news and information from?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2018 @ 11:52am

      Re: Fake News

      How's the weather over there in Russia? They pay you well to sow discord?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2018 @ 12:04pm

      Re: Fake News

      Why do you think that it would be Fox News that would be purged? I'm not talking about which news agencies are actually more factual, because that wouldn't matter. It would only matter which news was considered factual to whoever is in charge of determining which news is factual. If Trump was the one who got to make that determination, you really think Fox News would go down?

      The real answer of course, is that we shouldn't allow this kind of power to the government at all. It's a tool for totalitarianism, and preventing people from speaking is not a path towards truth.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2018 @ 12:55pm

        Re: Re: Fake News

        "The real answer of course, is that we shouldn't allow this kind of power to the government at all."

        In a world where everyone thinks that regulations are going to save them? Good luck with that, the Government will have that power when it decides to take it. We have already given away more than enough liberty to where we only have liberty they decide we can have.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2018 @ 11:42am

    Fake News is simply an excuse for the further removal of what you thought were your rights.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), 24 Jan 2018 @ 12:32pm

    Sounds kinda familiar...

    The state deciding what is and isn't true in news and political reporting... What could possibly go wrong?

    The UK government seems to be doing something similar - an [http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-42791218] "anti-fake news unit"... Guess "Ministry of Truth" was too copyright...?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2018 @ 4:24pm

    I would report every cospiracy site on the net. Flat earth? Fake news, big foot? Fake news! Anti vaxers, anti climate change, any article that quotes an outright lie by trump without calling it a lie would get reported.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2018 @ 5:51pm

    Italy must be safest country in the world. If fake news is worthy of their time, the police must have nothing else left to investigate.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Jan 2018 @ 12:58pm

    Mussolini would be proud.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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