The internet was built on freedom of expression. Yet, society wants someone held accountable when that freedom is abused—and major internet companies like Google and Facebook are finding themselves caught between those ideals, Reuters reports. Although Google, Facebook, and their rivals have enjoyed a relatively “safe harbor” from prosecution over user-generated content in the United States and Europe, they face a public that increasingly is more inclined to blame them for cyber-bullying and other online transgressions. Such might have been the case when three Google executives were convicted in Milan, Italy, on Feb. 24 over a bullying video posted on the site—a verdict greeted with horror by online activists, who fear it could open the gates to such prosecutions and ultimately destroy the internet itself. Journalist Jeff Jarvis suggested on his influential BuzzMachine blog that the Italian court, which found Google executives guilty of violating the privacy of an autistic boy who was taunted in the video, was essentially requiring web sites to review everything posted on them. “The practical implication of that, of course, is that no one will let anyone put anything online, because the risk is too great,” Jarvis wrote. “And that kills the internet.” A seemingly stunned Chris Thompson, writing for Slate, said simply: “The mind reels at this medieval verdict…”

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