Teen's death triggers probe into Facebook

By Tom Kington

Prosecutor says site's staff may be investigated for allowing publication of demeaning posts.

Carolina Picchio, 14, killed herself after a video of her circulated on Facebook. Photo / Supplied
Carolina Picchio, 14, killed herself after a video of her circulated on Facebook. Photo / Supplied

An Italian prosecutor has opened an investigation into how Facebook allowed the publication of insults and bullying posts aimed at a teenager who later leapt to her death from her third-floor bedroom window.

Carolina Picchio, 14, from Novara in northern Italy, died in January after a gang of boys circulated a video on Facebook of her appearing drunk and dishevelled in the bathroom at a party.

The group, aged between 15 and 17, were said to be friends of Picchio's ex-boyfriend. He had allegedly insulted her on Facebook when she left him days earlier.

In a note found in her room to the boy, Picchio wrote: "Isn't what you have done to me enough? You have made me pay too many times." The boy said he apologised to her for the insults, but she then took her own life, writing on Facebook: "Forgive me if I am not strong. I cannot take it any longer."

The Italian Parents' Association has already filed a criminal complaint in Rome directly against Facebook for allegedly having a role in the instigation of Picchio's suicide.

"This is the first time a parents' group has filed such a complaint against Facebook in Europe," said Antonio Affinita, the director. "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."

Francesco Saluzzo, the Novara prosecutor, said he did not rule out placing Facebook staff under investigation.

Saluzzo said he was investigating how the video had stayed online "for days", even after Picchio's friends requested its removal.

"There is a procedure for asking for the removal of messages that break rules. 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."

Affinita said Picchio's death was "the last straw" after a 15-year-old schoolboy in Rome killed himself in 2012, having allegedly been taunted as a homosexual on Facebook.

Facebook offers "report" links on its pages to allow the highlighting of offensive content, and in 2011 launched a "Stop Bullying, Speak Up" application to raise awareness of the problem.

In Novara, a social media backlash against Picchio's torment quickly emerged, with one online commentator, thought to be a school friend, condemning the boys who videoed her. She said: "Tomorrow I have to go back to school and see those idiots. I can't do it."

Eight boys, aged 15 to 17, are being questioned by magistrates.

Italian magistrates have a record of challenging social media providers over offensive content. Three Google executives were given six-month suspended sentences in 2010 for allowing the posting of a film in Italy of the bullying of a handicapped student. Prosecutors claimed Google had allowed the student's privacy to be violated. The case was overturned on appeal last December, but a magistrate is now fighting that acquittal.

Where to get help

Youth services: (06) 3555 906

Youthline: 0800 376 633

Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (4pm to 6pm weekdays)

Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (noon to midnight)

The Word

Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (24-hour service)

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

CASPER Suicide Prevention

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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