Voted the Oxford Dictionaries’ international word of 2016, so-called “post-truth” refers to an apparently new concept.
The compound word relates to all those circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than news stories based on emotion or personal belief.
After its first appearances in 2015 in a number of articles, in 2016 the term “post-truth” became disconnected from its original definition and became widely used in political comment, especially with regard to the Brexit referendum and the U.S. Presidential election. In Italy the term has often been used in commenting on the outcome of the constitutional referendum.
In simple terms, according to many commentators, the UK’s exit from the European Union, the election of Trump and the failure of Renzi’s referendum proposal are the direct consequence of an era in which voters opt not to believe in objective facts but rather in emotionally charged news stories. Naturally it is not possible to assess how consciously this decision is taken by voters, but it seems obvious that the debate on post-truth also and perhaps mainly refers to those who are unable to distinguish between reliable sources of information and those which are manifestly biased.
As is entirely predictable, at the heart of this alarming situation countless observations can be found on the role of social media as the main vehicle of this uncontrolled spread of fake news and propaganda. Although news is posted and shared by users, the role these platforms play is much more active than might be imagined. On Facebook, for example, the “Trending Topics feed” column actively encourages the reading and sharing of the most popular articles on the social network, many of which come from unreliable websites full of glaringly fake news, the importance of which is exaggerated in this way.
Buzzfeed magazine uncovered the prime case of certain (more than 100) pro-Trump websites, which had been created by numbers of Macedonian teens and which reported sensationalist and totally fictitious news with the single declared aim of making money through Google’s online Ad-sense advertising network. One example is of the baseless smear campaign against Hillary Clinton which helped generate over 140,000 shares (reactions and comments) by U.S.users (on Facebook).
Facebook’s management were faced with a torrent of rage and criticism in the wake of Trump’s victory, being accused of not admitting their responsibility in shaping public opinion. In response to this criticism, on the 15th of December 2016, Mark Zuckerberg announced the launch of an article classification system, which will begin flagging news stories reported as fake by users, which will then be sent to (five) third-party outside professional fact-checking organisations for verification.
However, there are many who do not want to leave the power to distinguish real news from fake news to the major Internet platforms, the so-called Over The Top (OTT) players. Both commentators and experts have underlined the danger of leaving private companies in charge of assessing the accuracy of web-based information.
Speaking of which, the Financial Times interview with Giovanni Pitruzzella, head of the Italian Antitrust, published on the 30th December 2016, attracted particular attention. In the interview, Pitruzzella underlines the need to set up “a network of independent national bodies in charge of identifying and removing fake news from circulation (and imposing fines if necessary)”. A sort of Authority tasked with monitoring the truthfulness of information.
The idea has sparked a certain interest among commentators but also a chorus of accusations in relation to the presumed intention on the part of the Institutions to impose censorship. In Italy the former comedian and political leader Beppe Grillo has defined the post-truth alarm as “a new inquisition”. There are also those, such as Riccardo Luna, the former editor of Wired Italia, who asks for a rethink of quality journalism’s commitment as a bastion to combat widespread misinformation, stressing that although post-truth is not a new phenomenon, it is hugely amplified nowadays by the web and social networks.
However, this prompts us to make a further consideration. If it is true that the web has increased chances of running into fake news, it must also be acknowledged that the wide variety of information sources allows us more than ever today, to study news items in depth and to analyse and compare them. It goes without saying that a certain degree of skill to discriminate is necessary, but it is only in the context of a multiplicity of voices that it becomes possible to develop helpful cognitive instruments for distinguishing between relatively realistic news and sensational hoaxes. Therefore, in addition to being difficult to apply, devising solutions to limit and control information (contained in news) might also be counterproductive.
Yet there are still only very few voices which underline the need to help present and future voters in providing themselves with those intellectual instruments which would enable them to recognise the most reliable sources by themselves. So, regardless of any effective practical solutions (there may be), the mere fact of discussing post-truth publicly may represent a first step towards awareness of a global issue each one of us can give our personal contribution to limiting in a very simple way: namely, by avoiding sharing unverified news.
On October 14th, 2014 The Internet Rights Charter prepared by the Study Committee promoted by the President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies Laura Boldrini and led by the jurist Stefano Rodotà, was presented to Montecitorio.
The document aims to promote the citizens’ rights online and to defend them against possible government and market impositions.
The Internet Rights Charter comprises fourteen articles based on the rights of digital citizenship, from the right to privacy to the right of access to education and from the right to be forgotten to the neutrality of the net.
In particular, with regard to the last point, which is currently the subject of much debate, the Internet Rights Charter declares its position by specifying that “the right of access to the web must be on an equal footing, with procedures which are both technologically appropriate and updated and capable of eliminating all obstacles of an economic and social nature.” As is well known, the aim of the principle of neutrality of the net is to prevent telecommunications oligopolies from creating fast tracks for chargeable services and governments from preventing gaining access to information.
The document was submitted by the Committee in draft form and will be the subject of a public consultation open to comments and proposals from the public as from October 27th. To examine the 14 articles and for further information on the consultation, please go to the relevant page on the website of the Italian Chamber of Deputies.
On the 22nd of April 2014 the Marco Civil, the Brazilian “Internet Constitution”, was granted final approval by the Brazilian Senate. The law, which regulates the rights and obligations of network users, was signed by President Dilma Rousseff at the opening of the “NetMundial” conference, a two day event dedicated to worldwide network governance.
After a work project lasting five years the regulations protecting privacy, freedom of expression and net neutrality were approved in Sao Paolo. With specific regard to net neutrality, the Brazilian Internet Constitution is considered by civil liberty activists as a revolutionary document in Internet history. The regulations will in fact prevent telecommunication companies from setting up preferential channels to band access as a prerogative of some services and to the detriment of others, as is an emerging trend in the business strategies of connectivity providers worldwide.
The law process speeded up after Edward Snowden’s revelations from which it emerged that the United States were monitoring President Rousseff’s communications.
However, as regards datagate, the Brazilian law proves to be less effective on comparison with its first formulation.
In fact one of the most contested innovations contained in the bill, namely the idea of preventing the storage of Brazilian citizens’ data on servers located abroad, was deleted from the main body of the regulation before Senate approval.
By virtue of the removal of the above mentioned proposal, another article of the regulations has been strengthened, which provides that companies that collect user data generated in Brazil must submit to the Brazilian government regulations on Data Protection, regardless of the location of the servers where the information is stored.
The Marco Civil also contains provisions against the attribution of liability to intermediaries, formalizing that providers are not responsible for the content published online by users, a hotly contested topic for years in Europe but on which Brazil had not yet legislated.
Under the new legislation, service providers will only be liable for third party content if they fail to ensure the removal of material pursuant to a court order.
As we have read in the press, the moment of the President’s signature was accompanied by applause and clamour from the NetMundial audience which was made up of experts and representatives of the major worldwide network companies.
In a speech which briefly preceded Rouseff’s signature, Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, expressed the hope that other governments would follow Brazil’s example and join together in signing the paper described as a wonderful example of how governments can play a positive role in the advancement of civil rights on the Internet and in maintaining an open network.
Following the President’s speech, the European Commissioner Neelie Kroes also expressed her enthusiasm and defined the Marco Civil as “real cause for celebration”.
In Italy there is an ongoing and ever more widespread outcry on the part of traders and business people against TripAdvisor, from Federalberghi (the hoteliers’ association), which speaks of a “genuine emergency” caused by malpractice that through blackmail and the threat of fear severely disrupts the activity of Tour Operators, to the Sos albergatori association which uses the Pirtadvisor app in an attempt to flush out misleading reviews.
There are also those who have come out in open revolt against the American portal and display a decidedly blunt sign at the entrance to their premises plainly stating “TripAdvisor users not welcome”.
The problem is the subject of long-standing debate and is first and foremost legal: Decree Law 70/2003 (from the European directive 2000/31/Ce) orders that the owners of websites are not responsible for any information sent by users, unless said owners are aware that such activity or information is illegal or that although aware of such facts and following the request of the Judge they fail to act immediately to remove or to prevent access to such information.
It is for this precise reason why TripAdvisor and other similar sites are under no obligation to verify the identity of the writer or the information received. Consequently the only possible protection to be obtained is when the violation has already taken place; namely to demand removal of the review, either directly or through a lawyer and to ask for payment of damages or to sue in the case of defamation or the violation of the right to personal identity.
Law decree n. 69/2013 provides that “providing wi-fi access to the Internet does not require user identification”.
It is also explained that when the provision of Internet access is not the core business of the service provider, art. 25 of d. lgs. 1.8.2003, n. 259 and art. 7 of d. l. 27.7.2005 do not apply. This means that neither authorization from the Ministry of Telecommunications nor a licence from the Police Authorities are required.
In point of fact, wi-fi should already have been considered free after the abrogation of the Pisanu Decree Law, however interpretations of the regulatory framework were not unanimous.
Now there is no longer any doubt and a typical Italian anomaly not found in other countries has finally been eliminated.
Blogs and online magazines are not required to be officially registered and therefore they cannot be accused of the crime of operating a “clandestine press”. This is the reasoning behind the Italian Supreme Court’s ruling which concludes the trial of Carlo Ruta, the journalist and Sicilian historian and founder of the blog “Accade in Sicilia” (“It happens in Sicily”).
In 2008 the journalist was convicted of the crime of operating a “clandestine press” by the Modica Court for publishing his blog without authorisation, as provided for by art. 5 of the Law 8.2.1948, n. 47. The judgement of the Modica Court was the confirmed by the Catania Court of Appeal.
During the course of the proceedings the defence had argued to no purpose that this blog and all blogs in general are not equivalent to printed newspapers in that they are to be considered simply as tools of information, also taking into consideration the fact that they are not regularly updated.
Despite the imminent prescription of the offence, the outcome of the appeal to the Supreme Court was awaited with a certain apprehension by the defenders of citizens’ online rights.
A confirmation of previous decisions would have represented the introduction of an outdated legal obligation for all Internet blogs, and thus a bureaucratic burden which would realistically have led to many sites closing.
With decision n. 2330, the Third Criminal Division of the Supreme Court of Cassation has overturned all previous decisions affirming that the legal definition of a press product requires two conditions which are not satisfied by electronic newspapers, namely those of printed reproduction and the publication of such materials.
In the opinion of the judge, not even the most recent provisions relating to the registration of newspapers are applicable to Ruta’s blog. Law 7.3.2001, n. 62 (concerning the regulation both on publishing and published products, which modified Law 5.8.1981, n. 416) and which introduced registration for online newspapers, specifies that the obligation is to be carried out only for administrative reasons and exclusively with the aim of obtaining funds set aside for publishing.
Moreover this limitation was confirmed by legislative decree 9.11.2003, n. 70, which explicitly provided that registration for online newspapers is compulsory exclusively for those activities for which service providers require access to public funds.
As appears evident, this is a decision with wide-ranging implications since it affirms that neither blogs, nor even online newspapers are subject to the obligation to register if they do not intend to have access to public funds.
With six suppressive amendments the Italian Chamber of Deputies has eliminated from the 2011 Community Law the amendment that the press had labelled as the Italian SOPA.
The proposed legislation, presented by The Northern League MP Fava, stated that any interested party could request hosting service providers to remove any content simply by claiming it to be illegal, without any investigation by the Judicial or Administrative Authority being required and that should the provider fail to comply with the request it could be held responsible .
The Italian SOPA has been revoked by the Chamber with the approval of six identical all party amendments. The votes were 365 in favour, 57 against and 14 abstentions.
Great satisfaction was expressed by the Italian associations supporting digital rights for citizens particularly by Agorà Digitale, one of the prime movers in the protest against MP Fava’s amendment. Commenting on the issue on his association’s blog the Agorà Digitale President Luca Nicotra remarked that “First of all today’s vote confirms the new, important and effective possibilities of mobilization that the Internet offers to citizens, who are more determined than ever to defend their rights interacting with and when necessary directly challenging their parliamentary representatives. It is also a sign that there is a small all party group of MPs determined to defend the values of an open and free Internet”.
The suppression of Fava’s amendment has, however, been received with some disappointment by the major representatives of the Italian entertainment industry. Marco Polillo, President of Confiindustria Cultura Italia, (the Italian Industrial Association for Culture) has spoken of a “missed opportunity to fight piracy”, while the President of FIMI, (the Italian Music Industry Federation), Enzo Mazza, has stressed that the rejection of the Italian SOPA is “a victory for Megaupload and The Pirate Bay”.
The wiretapping bill is again at the centre of the Italian Internet debate since some members of the Parliamentary majority have expressed their intention to submit it to a vote of confidence in Parliament as soon as possible .
The text of the disputed bill contains the law defined by the press as the “Blog killer” (art. 1, paragraph 29) which, we should remind ourselves, obliges “information sites, including electronic versions of daily newspapers and magazines” to report and rectify any information claimed to be false, within forty-eight hours of the request.
This law has already been analyzed on these pages by Professor Giusella Finocchiaro, who has stressed several negative issues:
“In addition to heavy fines (from € 7,746 to € 12,911) and to the stringent terms imposed for rectification (only forty-eight hours after the request), which are anything but easy to enforce, the danger is that, if approved, in the long run this rule will equate sites (and blogs) to newspapers, creating the basis for the application of strict rules which have originally been intended for media companies, (administratively demanding, and accompanied by penalties), for ”information websites” and maybe every electronic communication (and why not, also social networks and Twitter).
Many network commentators have again started to protest against what they consider a serious limitation of freedom of expression on the web. The National Press Council held a protest demonstration in Rome on September 29.
We’d like to present a 10 point analysis here by Giusella Finocchiaro on Paragraph 29 of the wiretapping bill.
The wiretapping bill, still pending approval, also threatens to impact on the Internet, as is well known,.
In fact, Paragraph 29 provides for changes to the Press Law, by requiring “computer sites, including electronic versions of daily newspapers and magazines” to report and rectify information, within forty-eight hours of the request. These rectifications must be published with the same graphic characteristics, methodology of site access and visibility of the news which they refer to.
But in the chaos which has unleashed this bill on us, we need to clarify the legal environment of the proposed amendment.
10 things we can’t not know about … the right of rectification.
1) What is the right of rectification?
It is the right for people involved in the publication of images, statements or news considered to be offensive for their dignity or contrary to their truth to have their statements published free of charge.
Basically, it is the right of an individual – granted on certain conditions – to assert their truth.
2) Where or how is the news, the statement or the image published?
In newspapers or on television.
3) What are the rules of reference today?
a) The Press Law (specifically, Article. 8 of Law 47 of 1948) which states: the right of rectification is the right to publish “free of charge in a newspaper or periodical or through a press agency statements or rectifications by persons whose images have been published or to whom acts or thoughts or statements have been attributed which they consider prejudicial to their dignity or contrary to the truth, provided the statements or rectifications do not contain content that is susceptible to criminal prosecution. “
b) The Law on audiovisual media services and radio (in particular, Article n.32 quinquies of Legislative Decree no. 177, 2005) which provides: “those who consider themselves wronged in their moral or material interests (…) by transmission contrary to truth have the right to ask (…) that special rectification is transmitted, provided that this does not have content that may give rise to criminal liability. “
4) Does the right of rectification eliminate other rights?
The right of rectification is added, but does not eliminate the legal actions which one can avail oneself of in order to protect other rights (libel, damages, and so on).
5) What is the basis of the exercise of the right of rectification today?
To date, the right of rectification is provided for the press (newspapers, periodicals, press agencies) and for radio and television, which broadcast analogically or digitally.
The assumption is that the news or statement have been released by a media. It is assumed that there is an organizational structure created to produce “information”, in other words, a company dedicated to that end.
6) Is the “information website” a newspaper or a TV broadcast?
It is obvious to state that a website can be anything. Even a newspaper (such as an online newspaper). Of course not all websites are newspapers. AND THIS IS WHERE THE CONCEPTUAL ERROR LIES.
7) Is the blog a newspaper?
No. There are many types of blogs, but blogs typically do not follow the timescale of a newspaper and are not registered.
8) Are bloggers business people?
Not simply because they are bloggers.
9) What are the major risks deriving from the wiretapping law?
In addition to heavy fines (from Euro 7,746 to Euro 12,911) and to the stringent terms imposed for rectification (only forty-eight hours after the request) which are anything but easy to enforce, the danger is that, if approved, in the long run this rule will equate sites (and blogs) to newspapers, creating the basis for the application of strict rules which have originally been intended for media companies, (administratively demanding, and accompanied by penalties), for ”information websites” and maybe every electronic communication (and why not, also social networks and Twitter),.
10) So in conclusion we can state that the Internet is or must be like the Wild West?
No. Today, there are already valid legal remedies (such as defamation, damages suffered, publication of the sentence). Others can be introduced, but must be more carefully deliberated.
Freedom of expression does not (only) belong to operators in the information sector, but to everyone. Expression of thought and the information business are not the same thing.
Decree no.225 of 29 December 2010, the so-called “milleproroghe” (the annual thousand extentions Decree) has removed both the obligation for Internet access providers to identify users and that of keeping data relating to operations made by them provided for by the so-called Pisanu Decree which has already been referred to on several occasions.
In point of fact, the paragraphs removed are nos.4 and 5 of Legislative Decree no.144 of 27 July 2005, approved with amendments by law no.155 of 31 July 2005.
The obligation of identifying Internet users constituted a typically Italian anomaly which was not to be found in other countries. The abrogation of this norm had long been hoped for in that it would eliminate such anomaly.
Clearly, the obligation has been eliminated but those providers who still wish to identify their users, however, will be permitted to do so once their users have been adequately informed in compliance with their contracts and with the norms of the Personal Data Protection Code.