Those persistent Italian prosecutors are at it again, this time pursuing a possible case against Facebook employees for the death of 14-year-old Carolina Picchio, who committed suicide in January after a gaggle of teenage boys that included her ex-boyfriend circulated a video on Facebook of Picchio appearing drunk at a party. Although Facebook itself is not under investigation, Novara prosecutor Francesco Saluzzo said he hasn’t ruled out an investigation of individual Facebook employees.
Picchio’s suicide follows an all-too-familiar bullying timeline: a video of her behaving like a party-goer at a party made the Facebook rounds, which prompted an avalanche of cruelty from her peers. In a farewell Facebook message, Picchio wrote, “Forgive me if I am not strong. I cannot take it any longer.”
Her death has, since then, galvanized parents in Italy. According to the Telegraph, the Italian Parents’ Association has already filed a criminal complaint in Rome against Facebook, alleging that the social media site played a significant role in Picchio’s suicide. Saluzzo kinda, sorta agrees with this assessment, explaining that videos of Picchio at the party stayed up “for days” after Picchio’s friends sent requests for the videos to be removed. Saluzzo has argued that the delay in taking the videos down is clearly against Facebook’s written rules, and that an investigation into individual Facebook employees responsible for handling those takedown requests might be possible.
There is a procedure for asking for the removal of messages that break rules. This is an open investigation without named suspects, as yet. Facebook itself is not under investigation. But we could theoretically investigate employees of Facebook who failed to respond to these requests.
The outrage at Picchio’s death has helped stoke the prosecutorial momentum to investigate some of Facebook’s European employees, though it’s still not clear if Saluzzo will move forward with his suggestion. Italian magistrates already have a history challenging social media behemoths, with three Google execs being handed a suspended sentence back in 2010 for allowing a video of a handicapped Italian student being bullied to be posted on Google Video.
Such legal challenges do not address the larger cultural forces that create such situations where young women can be shamed and bullied online for their behavior. However, if social media companies see that they have imminent legal interests in taking down offensive content on-the-double, the dissemination of bully-fodder might be curtailed, enough, at least, to prevent the suicides of beleaguered teenagers getting way more than anyone’s share of Internet abuse.
Image via Getty, Justin Sullivan