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YouTube video of Down’s Syndrome victim faces charges

How much freedom does the press have? Can we post anything on the internet? Even if it’s in bad taste? Who’s responsible for offensive content? Parents? The host?

Italian prosecutors are pressing charges against four Google executives for a defamatory breach of privacy. A video clip on YouTube (which is owned by Google), with a run time of about a minute and a half, showed a boy with Down’s Syndrome being taunted at school by classmates and then bonked over the head with a Kleenex box. In accordance with standard YouTube policy, administrators removed the offensive video within hours of complaints.

Exactly what the Italian government seeks is unclear. But Google defends its actions, saying that European Union policies do not require it to monitor content posted by 3rd parties. All it must do is respond to requests to take down offensive postings.

If you’ve never been to YouTube, just ask your teenagers about it. It’s full of homemade videos on anything you can imagine. Some are funny. Some are stupid. Some, like this one, are in bad taste. But is it criminal?

The teens who assaulted the victim with Down’s Syndrome face their own criminal charges. I haven’t seen the video. I don’t know if it was truly a criminal assault. It doesn’t sound like it. But at this point, I’m not even sure the video itself is the issue. I wonder more where the teachers were when this video was being filmed in an Italian classroom? I wonder where there parents are in all of this?

Such incidents revisit age-old issues of privacy, censorship, decency, and even parenting. A newspaper needs signed releases in order to print photos of students. Should posters of online content also need permission from everyone in their photos or videos? Doing so would definitely curb this type of content. But it would also be a logistical nightmare. I hope the day never comes when we have government men in black suits reviewing everything submitted for online posting. So should Google hire moderators who check everything? Should they have to? Is it even possible to control the flow of information online, without a government take-over? That’s unconstitutional. Is the web more of a liability than an asset? Should websites require parental approval before underage posters upload something? Sounds like a good idea, but how could it be verified?

I don’t know the answer to these questions. I don’t know where the line is, but don’t believe that Google should be held criminally liable here. If someone writes something profane on my Facebook wall is it my problem? If my children post something offensive on YouTube or on their MySpace page, should I be responsible for it?

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