A prosecutor in the town of Novara in northern Italy has launched an investigation into the role that Facebook may have played in the suicide of a fourteen year-old girl. According to the prosecutor, Francesco Saluzzo, Carolina Picchio's suicide in January of this year was apparently spurred on by graphic pictures and videos of her that were displayed on Facebook. The video reportedly showed her drunk and disheveled at a party she had attended and had allegedly been posted by friends of her boyfriend with whom she had broken up a few days earlier.
After Carolina jumped to her death from her third-floor bedroom window, police found a note to her former boyfriend linking him to the harassment campaign against her. "Isn't what you have done to me enough? You have made me pay too many times," she wrote. Although the boyfriend allegedly apologized for the offending messages, she took her own life after leaving a note on Facebook stating, "Forgive me if I am not strong. I cannot take it any longer."
In announcing his intention to investigate Facebook, Saluzzo stated that he is responding to a criminal complaint laid against the social media giant by the Italian Parents Association. According to a statement by the Association's president, Antonio Affinita, this is the first case of a parent group laying a complaint against Facebook anywhere in Europe. "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," he said.
The case against Facebook is likely to focus on why Facebook allowed the offending video and pictures to remain online "for days" despite repeated requests to take them down. "There is a procedure for asking for the removal of messages that break rules," Saluzzo said. "This is an open investigation without named suspects, as yet. Facebook itself is not under investigation. But we could theoretically investigate employees of Facebook who failed to respond to these requests." He has also linked Facebook to the 2012 suicide of a boy in Rome who had killed himself over online allegations about his sexuality.
Facebook launched a "Stop Bullying, Speak Up" feature in 2011 and called for a "culture of respect" for users. Still, accusations of a double-standard concerning offensive images and videos continue with questions being raised about delays in dealing with complaints.
Other social media companies have also come under scrutiny by Italian prosecutors. In 2010, Google executives were prosecuted over the online posting of a video showing the bullying of a disabled student. Although the verdict was overturned on appeal, that decision is now under scrutiny by Italy's Supreme Court.
As for the teens implicated in Carolina Picchio's death, there are already facing a social media backlash of their own. A Facebook page in Carolina's honour has been posted by her friends with barbed comments aimed at her tormentors. While already questioned by magistrates, no formal charges have been laid to date. Carolina's former boyfriend has already denied being present at the party where the offensive video was taken.