A prosecutor from Novara in Italy is investigating the possibility of pursuing criminal action
against Facebook for failing to remove offensive content that may have led to a 14 year old girl’s
suicide. The company itself isn’t under investigation for criminal offences, rather the Prosecutor is contemplating action against Facebook employees who failed to disable content upon being requested to do so.
Carolina Picchio faced an avalanche of abusive, offensive messages on Facebook from her ex-boyfriend and his friends from which there seemed to be no escape. The abusive and humiliation continued to plague her in her day to day life. There was no respite for Carolina as she continued to endure the anguish of bullying at her school in Northern Italy in Novara.
It all commenced when a video surfaced on the website showing Carolina drunk in a bathroom at a party and slightly disorientated,. However there are reports that Picchio’s boyfriend had begun to insult and taunt her on Facebook prior to their breaking up. A group of teenage boys that included her ex-boyfriend circulated the video on Facebook.
When it all became too much for her to cope with, she decided to jump out of her bedroom window to her death on the 5th of January. Just prior to taking her life, she posted on Facebook: “Forgive me if I am not strong. I cannot take it any longer.”
The abusive messages which haunted Carolina were reported to Facebook by friends and relatives in the desperate hope that they would be removed to spare her more pain. However the videos remained up for days after the requests for their removal were made. Italian Prosecutors have argued that the delay in taking the videos down is clearly in violation of Facebook’s written rules, and that an investigation into individual Facebook employees responsible for handling those takedown requests may be warranted.
Carolina not only faced a wave of abusive messages on Facebook, but in the days leading to her decision to take her life, she received 2,600 “vulgar” messages via a messaging service WhatsApp according to the Prosecutor in possession of the documents evidencing the offensive material.
Carolina left a letter addressed to those who had relentlessly demeaned and humiliated her, a message directed towards their behaviour and the impact it had on her. Her mother has shared that message with CNN.
The message read “Are you happy now?. Have you hurt me enough? Have you had enough revenge?”
An official spokesperson for Facebook expressed their condolences to Carolina’s family and issued
a public statement condemning harrassment, adding that it has no place on Facebook. In the wake of Christina’s tragic death, Facebook urged teenagers and parents alike to report incidents of bullying using the links provided by the site for this purpose.
The company’s spokesperson said “We remove content reported to us that violates our Statement of Rights and and Responsibilities and we escalate reports of harassment and bullying to law enforcement where appropriate.”
However Carolina’s mother isn’t convinced that Facebook and similar social media networks have
done enough to confront and address online bullying and is waging a battle to render social
networks responsible in particular for ensuring that minors are protected. Facebook’s anti-bullying protections are under scrutiny as a result of Carolina’s death.
The Italian Parent’s Association has filed a complaint against Facebook in Europe. Italian law makes it unlawful for minors under the age of 18 to enter into contracts, although Facebook is effectively entering into a contract with minors which concerns their privacy without parent’s knowledge. The complaint alleges that the social media site played a significant role in Picchio’s suicide.
Last May the Italian press reported that authorities were questioning eight teenage boys on suspicion of incitement to suicide and possession of child pornography. Even after her death it was reported that bullies continued to post derogatory messages about her through Facebook.
Carolina’s uncle has posted a video on YouTube dedicated to Caroline’s memory.