Italy drops hate site ban plan after PM attacked

ROME Wed Dec 23, 2009 4:58pm EST

Blood covers part of the face of Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi after he was attacked in downtown Milan December 13, 2009. REUTERS/Paolo Bona

Blood covers part of the face of Italy's Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi after he was attacked in downtown Milan December 13, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Paolo Bona

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ROME (Reuters) - Italy dropped plans on Tuesday to black out Internet hate sites despite a pledge for radical measures after fan pages emerged on the Internet last week praising an attack on Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, who had proposed blocking such sites following the assault on the prime minister, said after meeting with executives from Facebook, Google, Microsoft and other Internet service providers he would seek a solution through a shared code of conduct rather than new legislation.

"The road to follow is to find an agreement with all those involved and avoid forcing through new measures," Maroni told reporters.

"If this agreement is found, it would be the first of this kind in the world," he said, adding that more talks will be held in January.

Berlusconi's allies were incensed by fan pages for Massimo Tartaglia, who struck Berlusconi in the face on December 13 after a rally in Milan, that appeared on the web -- mainly on Facebook and YouTube -- within hours of the attack.

In a statement last week Facebook said it would take quick action to remove any content reported to it that makes direct threats against an individual.

It also shut down the largest fan page for Tartaglia after 100,000 users joined it in less than 48 hours, but at least two pro-Tartaglia groups were still visible on Tuesday.

A video has also surfaced on YouTube casting doubt on the authenticity of the attack and saying it was staged.

Maroni, who is from the far-right Northern League party, had initially pledged to pass an emergency decree to black out hate sites.

But critics said that smacked of censorship, with one member of the opposition Italy of Values party comparing the planned measures to attempts to control Internet use in China and Iran.

Facebook said in its statement that while promoting violence or posting threatening content on its pages was not permitted, "online debates simply reflect what happens offline, where conversations between people take place freely at home or by phone and e-mail."

The site has more than 12 million active users in Italy, or 20 percent the population.

(Editing by Michael Roddy)

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