“When digital news outlets disappear, the holes in coverage show, and they can be huge.”
On March 23, 2006, PrimaDaNoi.it, a local news site covering the Abruzzo region of Central Italy, published a story about a couple who had been arrested for attempted extortion. In 2007, the couple was acquitted, and PrimaDaNoi.it updated its story. It updated the story again in 2008, when the couple sued the Italian state for “unjust detention.”
The PrimaDaNoi.it story continued to show up in Google searches for the couple’s names, and though it was updated and accurate, the couple asked PrimaDaNoi.it repeatedly to remove it. When the site wouldn’t do so, the couple escalated their complaint to a local court. Ultimately, in 2011, the court ruled that “enough time had passed” that the article should be taken down. PrimaDaNoi.it was ordered to delete the article and pay €5,000 in damages.
During the same time period, PrimaDaNoi.it became involved in a similar case, over a story in which four people from the same family got into a public fight that resulted in two stabbings. One of those people asked that his own name, and the name of the restaurant he owned, be removed from PrimaDaNoi.it’s article; he sued the publisher on October 26, 2010, saying it wasn’t fair to have “his reputation exposed for an unlimited time even when, with the passing of time, public interest in the news has ceased.” This case escalated to the Italian Supreme Court, which ruled in 2016 that news effectively has an expiration date and that this story had reached it.
PrimaDaNoi.it, which has a staff of four, has since 2010 been subject to 15 right-to-be-forgotten lawsuits, according to Alessandro Biancardi, the site’s editor and publisher. “As we publish the verdicts of criminal cases, people attack us and ask us to remove…almost as if they were ordering in a restaurant,” Biancardi recently told Nicolas Kayser-Bril and Mario Tedeschini-Lalli, the founders of the Offshore Journalism Project — an initiative to “maximize free speech” around the world by “exploiting different jurisdictions.” That is, figuring out ways to let news publishers, especially those from European countries with right-to-be-forgotten laws, preserve their digital work by archiving it in countries with stronger freedom-of-speech laws, namely the United States.