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Facebook faces criminal complaint for role in 14-year-old girl’s suicide

The Italian Parent's Association say Facebook did not do enough to protect bullying victim Caroline Picchio.


Kevin Morris

Internet Culture

Posted on May 27, 2013   Updated on Jun 1, 2021, 2:55 pm CDT

Italian police may investigate Facebook for the company’s role in the suicide of a 14-year-old girl earlier this year.

“Forgive me if I am not strong. I cannot take it any longer,” Caroline Picchio wrote on her Facebook wall before leaping three stories to her death in January. She had plunged into a depression after a group of teenage boys filmed her acting drunk and out of sorts in a bathroom during a house party, then used it as a weapon to bully her on Facebook.

Facebook prohibits its users from bullying or harassing others, but the video nevertheless stayed online for days, even as Picchio’s friends reported it repeatedly. Eight boys between the ages of 15 and 17, including Picchio’s ex-boyfriend, are being questioned for their role in the harassment. But the Italian Parents Association isn’t waiting for police to finish up that side of the investigation. The group has already filed a criminal complaint against Facebook in Rome.

It’s the first time the group has done so in Europe, the group’s director Antonio Affinita, told the Telegraph. “Italian law forbids minors under 18 signing contracts, yet Facebook is effectively entering into a contract with minors regarding their privacy, without their parents knowing,” Affinita said.

On Facebook, the only recourse for bullying victims is to click on the “report” button and then wait for the company to do something. The social-networking giant, which made $219 million over the first quarter this year, boasts it employs a dedicated team that works 24 hours, seven days a week monitoring such reports. In many instances this so-called “safety team” responds with astonishing speed; photos of naked breasts or nudity in general, for instance, often disappear almost immediately.

Harassment reports, however, seem a lower priority. Earlier this year, outraged Australian parents reported a page that invited users to post sexually explicit comments about two pre-teen girls who’d been photographed at a skate park. Facebook’s safety team at first refused to delete the group, claiming the images weren’t “sexually explicit” (apparently the team forgot its own rules against harassment) but shortly backtracked after widespread media attention.

In 2011, a video showing the gang rape of Canadian teen Rehtaeh Parsons was allowed to spread virally on Facebook throughout various Nova Scotia high schools. Parsons died earlier this year, a few days after hanging herself.

Italian court may not be the best place to lay out the case against Facebook. In 2010, three Google executives were given six-month suspended sentences for violating the privacy of an autistic teen, who was shown being bullied in a video uploaded to the site. Those sentences came despite the fact that Google had worked with law enforcement to remove the video as soon as it learned of its existence. The case was overturned in December following an appeal.

But the Picchio case does raise important questions about the responsibility of social media companies to start taking harassment reports seriously. With net income in the hundreds of millions every quarter, you’d think Facebook could afford to protect its users. Especially kids.

Photo via The Daily Mail

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*First Published: May 27, 2013, 11:19 am CDT