Judge in Italian Google case receives threats on Facebook

Hundreds of messages criticizing his decision have been posted since the Feb. 24 verdict was announced

The Milan judge who convicted three Google executives for allowing the posting of a video showing the bullying of an autistic teenager has received hundreds of threatening and insulting messages via Facebook since the verdict was first announced on Feb. 24.

Judge Oscar Magi revealed the existence of the hatemail on his Facebook profile and provided details in an interview with Il Sole 24 Ore blogger Daniele Lepido published Thursday. The judge's 111-page explanation for his conviction of the executives was released on Monday.

Hundreds of offensive messages had been sent to his Facebook account, Magi told the blogger. "For some of them I even had to request the intervention of the platform administrators, pointing out the existence of threatening individuals," Magi said.

Most of the critical messages originated outside of Italy, but the most threatening ones came from accounts inside the country, while a number of approving messages appeared to have been sent from Spain, the judge said.

Magi said Italian law did not give him an alternative to a prison sentence in the event the Google executives were found guilty -- one of the aspects most criticized by those sending him Facebook messages -- but he insisted he had imposed "the minimum of minimum" sentences.

Google's argument that the company did not benefit financially from the videos posted on Google Video at the time of the offense was disproved in court, Magi said. "The prosecutors' investigations were conducted very well, very detailed and scrupulous, especially in demonstrating the profit-making mechanism based on the commercial relationship between Google Italy and Google Inc.," he said.

The threatening messages on Facebook appeared to vindicate Magi's writing in the ruling published Monday that the Internet should not be allowed to become "a limitless prairie where everything is permitted and nothing can be forbidden."

"It's sad to have to admit it, but the insults that he has received are a spectacular confirmation that Magi was right," a reader signing himself "Paolo" wrote in a comment on the online edition of the Rome daily La Repubblica. "If I threaten and insult someone in the 'real world,' I am called to account for it. In 'cyberspace' there is a kind of de facto impunity."

Vittorio Zambardino, the La Repubblica blogger to whom Paolo was responding, said Magi had been lucky to succeed in getting the Facebook administrators' attention. "I have been after them for months. They got in touch only after I had threatened to report them to the Privacy Authority, and then disappeared into thin air," Zambardino wrote. "I think it's unnecessary to add that anyone who insults someone over Internet (or in the flesh) is a savage and an imbecile."

The exact text of the threatening messages has not been reported and Magi's page was inaccessible as of Thursday afternoon. Magi, who achieved international celebrity last November when he convicted 23 Americans for the illegal abduction and "rendition" of an Egyptian cleric, said he did not intend to report the threatening messages to the Milan prosecutor's office.

"These are virtual threats and insults, things that go in one ear and come out the other," he told the Italian ADN-Kronos news agency.

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Philip Willan

IDG News Service
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