Italy is facing calls to clamp down on online abuse and strengthen its internet privacy policies after a woman who featured in a homemade sex video shared widely online killed herself.
Italian MPs have urged the government and social network providers to address “illegal acts that can no longer be passed off as childish pranks” through legislation, the swift removal of defamatory images and education on responsible use of social media.
Tiziana Cantone, a 31-year-old from Naples, took her own life a year and a half after explicit footage of her was first uploaded to the internet in spring 2015.
The images and videos began to appear on porn sites and spread virally on social media, along with jeering comments, edited screenshots and cruel video parodies, many using her full name.
“It is once again a woman who is the target of violence and hate,“ said Elena Centemero, an MP for the centre right Forza Italia party, according to the ANSA news agency.
The MP said while students should be taught about respectful internet use and consideration for individuals at school, there was also a need for “policies to fight this type of hate and violence”.
Ms Cantone’s death has intensified the debate over online privacy and the right to be forgotten in Italy, subjects broached by a draft law on the prevention of cyberbullying which was debated in parliament this week.
The draft law, titled “Providing protection to minors for preventing and fighting the cyberbulling phenomenon”, was proposed following the suicide of a 14-year-old girl in January 2013.
A video of Carolina Picchio, from the town of Novara, west of Milan, was circulated in which she appeared drunk and disorientated at a party.
She suffered harassment and bullying from other teenagers on Facebook, receiving more than 2,600 abusive WhatsApp messages, according to CNN.
She reported the abusive content to Facebook, but her family said they it was not removed, according to the broadcaster.
Facebook responded: “We remove content reported to us that violates our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and we escalate reports of harassment and bullying to law enforcement where appropriate.”
Donata Lenzi, a Democratic Party MP, warned the country against ignoring cases such as that of Ms Cantone and Ms Picchio.
“The draft law was created in memory of Carolina, but we would now like to dedicate it to [Tiziana Cantone] as well,” she told ANSA. “We are faced with illegal acts that can no longer be passed off as childish pranks.”
“This is a phenomenon that cannot be ignored and must be dealt with in a complete manner, with educative measures for minors, sanctions for adults and a rapid removal from the internet of defamatory words and images,“ said Ms Lenzi.
It’s only after I left that I realized how difficult it is to be a woman in Italy, and how unfair: https://t.co/cOWFUbf28G
— Annalisa Merelli (@missanabeem) September 14, 2016
Ms Cantone is said to have sent six different videos, including one of her performing a sex act on a man, to a handful of acquaintances whom she trusted.
Tormented after the footage went viral, she changed her name, moved out of her house, and launched a successful ‘right to be forgotten’ legal case forcing Facebook to take down the abusive posts.
But following at least two previous suicide attempts, her family said Ms Cantone had taken her own life while staying at her mother’s home.
Four men are now being questioned as part of an investigation that has been launched into her death, reported Corriere della Sera.
The European Union brought the much-discussed ‘right to be forgotten’ – the right of someone to not be remembered by outdated facts or a defamatory internet history – to actualisation in a landmark 2014 case against Google.
And Italy made its first legal decision based on the right in 2015, according to lawyer Alberto Lama.
The online ridicule of Ms Cantone was often centered on one short phrase, captured in the original footage: “Stai facendo il video? Bravo. [You’re filming? Good.]“
These words were parodied in countless YouTube videos, including one filmed by well-known football players Paolo Cannavaro and Antonio Floro Flores.
They appear to have become something of a national catchphrase, with even betting giant Paddy Power advert jokingly adjusting the phrase in an advert, according to Buzzfeed.
“Tiziana Cantone has killed herself, and this has affected me, because for months I’ve heard friends say ‘Stai facendo il video? Bravo’,” wrote journalist Saverio Tommasi in a blog titled “Dear men, Tiziana Cantone has killed herself and it’s our fault”.
The president of the Italian Data Protection Authority told La Stampa it was impossible to safeguard online privacy, but that the answer lay in better education at schools.
“I’m not in favour of bans or other luddite-like solutions,” he told the newspaper. “The digital era isn’t something we need to plan for; we’re already there.”
“There is the right to be forgotten, and other forms of protection, but it’s not always enough to eradicate the consequences when something spreads virally online,” he said.
“The main issue is that of awareness of the dangers faced each time we upload important details about our private lives to the web. At the moment, there’s not enough awareness”.
Social media users have also been contributing to the debate. “Instead of the right to be forgotten, in Italy there seems to only be protection and guarantee of the right to be hated,” wrote Twitter user Lelio Alfonso.