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"Go Etna, go Vesuvius, go Marsili!" Hate Speech?

Freedom of speech has limitations. You may not incite to violence or engage in defamation or slander, and many societies have laws against spreading—and in some places, simply expressing—views based on the racial or ethnic superiority of one group over another. The case of the hour in Italy at the moment is based on the satellite pseudo-photo on the right. It appeared recently on Facebook and has been altered to show a truncated Italy. The central and southern parts of the nation are missing, gone beneath the blue waters of the Mediterranean; only the north remains. It was accompanied by the comment (in Italian): "The satellite has it right. Let's protect our borders."

The photo was put up by a member of the Northern League, (Lega nord). The full name is the "Northern League for the Independence of Padania (originally, an alternate word for the Po river valley but now preempted by the Lega nord as the name for their 'nation'. The term comes from the Latin word for the Po river, Padus). The Lega (as it is called, for short) is a regionalist party, founded in 1991 and one that has at times threatened secession from Italy. The Lega has a few members in the Italian and European parliaments. So far, so good. If the phoney photo had been the end of the joke, it would still be, in the minds of most, protected speech. Stupid and tasteless, yes, but a crime?no.

Enter Donatella Galli (photo), outgoing provincial council member of the Lega in Monza and Brianza. She came across the photo, clicked "like" and then wrote the comment: "Go Etna, go Vesuvius, go Marsili!" (Some Europe-wide internet sources in English helpfully misinformed readers, who presumably know where the first two volcanoes are, that Marsili is "also in Campania." Actually, Marsili is a giant submerged volcano in international waters halfway between Naples and Sicily. (See this link.) (No matter; gotta get that scoop! I doubt that Ms Galli knows where Marsili is, either.) So far, still not a crime, but we're getting there.

Donatella's comment then goes viral, at least in the Italian blogosphere, and the next thing to appear on her Facebook page is this:

I'm a Lega bastard and proud of it. I want Vesuvius and Etna to massacre southerners. They are to me what the Jews were to Hitler and should all be put in the ovens.

No doubt, Donatella had forgotten not only that she is a public figure with responsibility to behave as if she really had something between her ears, but had also forgotten that almost anyone can hack into your Facebook account unless you protect it properly. That is apparently what happened. Anti-Lega elements (of whom there are many) made her look as bad as possible by putting up "hate speech" in her name. That kind of statement she supposedly made (but almost certainly did not) is actionable under Italian law and she was promptly denounced and formally charged by a Neapolitan politician. Galli firmly denies ever making the statement about the "ovens," although she clearly encouraged the volcanoes (and has not apologized for it). She will have to answer in court in Monza in October on charges of...I'm not quite sure...the volcano remark? I doubt it. The other one? The one she didn't make? Her Lega supporters have already put lawyers on the trail of whoever hacked the offending passage into her Facebook page. The prosecution in the Galli case will demand damages, all of which will go to charity. The Lega supporters on the trail of the hacker(s) will demand damages, all of which will go to charity. So maybe someone will get something out of this idiocy.



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