domenica, 3 Dicembre 2017
Dear Mr Zuckerberg,
like many others, I am deeply concerned at the outpouring of hate speech that is marring our public discourse. Even though this phenomenon was not born with social media, they have become the vectors for its global diffusion. The time has come for us all to shoulder our responsibilities, which weigh all the more heavily on those whose power is greatest, and your power is remarkable. You have affirmed that “there is no place for hate speech on Facebook”, but I feel bound by duty to inform you that, at least as far as Italy is concerned, this is not the case. Allow me to cite the example of a girl, Arianna Drago, who called attention to the disquieting reality of “closed groups”, and was courageous enough to circulate some comments from Facebook users who were posting pictures of completely unaware women whom they had made the target of violent obscenities.
Facebook suspended the girl’s account. Only after I went public with the case Facebook announced that the suspension had been done “by mistake”. Even then, several more weeks had to pass before the groups reported by Arianna were shut down. Meanwhile, many other similar groups continue to act with impunity, despite numerous complaints. An analogous situation exists with respect to extremist and violent political groups. The National Association of Italian Partisans has cataloged 300 Facebook pages exalting Fascism. Even though supporting Fascism is a crime in this country, the response of the Italian representatives of your company has been to declare that Facebook’s rules do not forbid the practice, and that “community standards need to be valid in every country”.
In May 2016, your company signed up to the code of conduct of the European Commission to combat “the spread of illegal hate speech online in Europe”, the results of which speak for themselves. The first six-monthly review revealed that just 28% of the content flagged for discriminatory or racist content had been removed. This figure is the aggregate of a 50% take-down rate in Germany and France and a paltry 4% in Italy. I am led to wonder whether this alarmingly low figure is the result of Facebook’s having no operation offices in Italy.
Unlike Germany or France, Italy receives little cooperation from your company with respect to fake news and disinformation. I have recently launched a public awareness campaign about the problem (www.bastabufale.it). I took this step because I strongly believe that fake news – i.e. false stories that are deliberately made up for commercial gain or else planted to delegitimize opponents or generate social tension – is harmful for people and is often the antechamber of hate speech.
Before my election as President of the Chamber of Deputies, I worked for 25 years in United Nations agencies dealing with international crises and refugees. I saw how important the internet and social media networks are, even in the most remote places on the planet and in refugee camps. It is because I am aware of the extraordinary value of social networks that I believe we need to act quickly and comprehensively, so that they do not become hostage to violent people.
I recently had the opportunity to meet at the Chamber of Deputies Richard Allan, Facebook’s Vice-president of public policy for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, who had requested to speak to me. He got in contact after, on the occasion of the International Day Against Violence On Women, I posted some of the obscene messages that I constantly receive, as does almost every woman in the public eye. I also complained to him that Facebook was not doing enough to take down these messages. As you know, the failure to remove humiliating content can lead to tragedies, such as that which occurred recently in Naples where a thirty-one-year-old woman, Tiziana Cantone, committed suicide out of shame at a video that had gone viral.
I submitted three proposals to Mr Allan. Two were of a technical nature. The third was for the opening of a Facebook operation office in Italy dedicated to the 28 million users in this country. Two months on and I have received only evasive and generic responses to my proposals. At this point, Mr Zuckerberg, I ask you the following question: in this issue, on which side does Facebook stand?