In 2009, I noted that an Italian court was trying three Google executives for violating Italian privacy laws. The three soon received six-month suspended jail terms for being “too slow” to remove a video from YouTube that depicted the bullying of an autistic child. Google had pulled the video as soon as told about it.
The unjust conviction has now thankfully been reversed.
At the time, Google rep Bill Echikson complained that his colleagues had been convicted although they had neither uploaded the video nor reviewed it before it was posted.
A key word is “review.” Must any Internet host of user-posted content review such content before it is published or else risk incarceration? Of course, “hosted” content covers the gamut of Internet content. Few website publishers provide their own servers.
If a publisher must obtain special approval from Facebook, Google, WordPress or any other platform provider before tossing something onto the web, that’s the death knell for freedom of speech and press on the Internet. At best, the pace of publication would slow to a crawl. At worst, censorship by Web-service providers would become rampant — except when providers suspend their services altogether for fear of non-suspended jail time.
Perhaps if the bad Italian precedent had been allowed to stand, the worst would not have come to pass. Perhaps only rarely would we see a horrific conviction exploiting that precedent, and perhaps only in Italy. But why take even one step down that road?
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.