Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Italy vs. The Free Internet

It is clear that Italy is currently undergoing an identity crisis as its traditionally conservative culture meets modernity. Italians are torn between conflicting cultural traditions and new conveniences.

A predictable result of this is a strong conservative backlash that shuns modern technology like TV and internet, branding these as trash, inappropriate, and even harmful to Italian culture. Instead of embracing the internet and television as a future means of communication, many Italian politicians and pundits are turning their back on it, which is creating a big problem on where to draw the line between freedom of speech and offensive content.

Considering that the internet, with all the anonymity and vastness entailed, has just about everything posted for anyone to see, there are always people that will cross the line. Recently, hateful and tasteless groups on Facebook have been banned by the Italian government, as well as a horribly offensive youtube video posted by an Italian that currently has resulted in Google being sued.

While there is certainly no doubt that these groups and other hateful content are absolutely disgusting and completely inexcusable, cases like these should not be used to show that the internet as a whole is a bad thing. However, in Italy, they are being used as excuses to clamp down on the freedoms of Italian internet users.

Freedom of speech is, by definition, open: there will be good ideas, bad ideas, noble ideas and offensive ideas. However, many Italian politicians are hinting that the problem is the freedom of speech itself that exists with the internet. They are led by the Prime Minister himself, Silvio Berlusconi, whose opinion is that "the internet must be regulated," and consistently tries to tighten his government's grip on the internet.

This is not right. It sounds more like fascism than democracy, and it needs to stop.

It is completely justified that victims pursue guilty offenders for hateful content, but not to question the freedoms of the system itself. If someone's house gets robbed, they are angry at the criminal, not the fact that they don't live in a police state where citizens can't walk freely from one house to another.

It is very likely that this is just a phase, a result of Italy's current identity crisis. It is likely that Italy will be forced to adapt to the freedom of information that comes with the internet and other modern technology, just as they are grudgingly adapting to increased immigration and fast food.

Considering the alternative, speriamo bene.

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