In the true spirit of online activism, the entire Italian Wikipedia website has voluntarily taken itself down in order to protest a bill being proposed to Parliament. The law (“DDL intercettazioni,” roughly translated as Wiretapping Act) would require every website to publish within 48 hours a correction or comment relating to any content an applicant has deemed “detrimental to their image,” as they put it. If that sounds vague, broad, and onerous, that’s because it is.
If this law were passed, Wikipedia and other websites would have to post unedited and unsolicited “corrections” to any content deemed objectionable by any person. This content would have to be displayed without any review of the offending content or the “correction.” It doesn’t take an expert to see that this law is contrary to the principles of truth and openness.
In case it isn’t clear, let me just sketch out an example. Say a government official was facing charges of soliciting a prostitute. If this were to be reported on a news website, or written into his page on Wikipedia, he or someone representing him would be able to submit a “correction” that would be required by law to be displayed alongside that information within 48 hours, regardless of what it says or the truthfulness of the allegations.
There are already slander and defamation protection laws on the books, and this part of the law (which seems to have very little to do with wiretapping) seems to simply be a present to the highly visible and frequently-criticized class of people comprising politicians, celebrities, and so on.
To be specific (without getting too deep into it; I am not versed in the subtleties of Italian politics), the law is seen as a tool for people like Italy’s infamously newsworthy Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi. The many salacious charges against him would be required by law to be paired with any official commentary from the PM, his office, or his lawyers. If the
Wikipedia is careful to point out that the whole point of their service is to provide a free, comprehensive, and neutral encyclopedia that is open to input from all parties. This law would eliminate the neutrality of the resource they have worked to create, and so the users of Wikipedia.it have opted to remove it entirely:
at this time, the Italian language Wikipedia may be no longer able to continue providing the service that over the years was useful to you, and that you expected to have right now. As things stand, the page you want still exists and is only hidden, but the risk is that soon we will be forced to actually delete it.
Wikipedia is, of course, actually based here in the US and foreign versions and communities are managed locally to some extent. The takedown of the Italian Wikipedia was not suggested or carried out by the Wikimedia Foundation, but they have written a short blog post in support of the effort:
The Wikimedia Foundation stands with our volunteers in Italy who are challenging the recently drafted “DDL intercettazioni” (or Wiretapping Bill) bill in Italy. This bill would hinder the work of projects like Wikipedia: open, volunteer-driven, and collaborative spaces dedicated to sharing high-quality knowledge, not to mention the ability for all users of the internet to engage in democratic, free speech opportunities.
I hope that the Wikipedians, as they are apparently called, here in the US would be able to take the same step, though I also hope it will never prove necessary. Personally I support this peaceful yet forceful demonstration of internet activism, and I’m sure many of our readers do as well.
Update: It seems the law has been amended to apply only to “official” press outlets. A dubious distinction. Also, the fine would reportedly be an outrageous 12,000 euros.