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Facebook may face prosecution over bullied teenager's suicide in Italy

By Ben Wedeman, CNN
July 31, 2013 -- Updated 1122 GMT (1922 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Carolina Picchio, 14, jumped from a window to her death after bullying on Facebook
  • Her sister and friends say they reported the abusive content to Facebook, but nothing happened
  • The Novara prosecutor is looking into filing a criminal complaint against Facebook
  • Facebook says it encourages reporting of abuse and removes content that breaches its rules

Novara, Italy (CNN) -- Like many girls her age, Italian teenager Carolina Picchio shared her pictures, thoughts and emotions on Facebook.

But after a video of the 14-year-old allegedly showed up on Facebook in which she appeared to be drunk and disoriented at a party, social media became a source of torment.

In a wired world, children unable to escape cyberbullying

An ex-boyfriend and his friends posted a steady barrage of abusive, offensive messages aimed at Carolina. And what started out online spilled into her daily life at school, and among her friends in the prosperous northern Italian town of Novara.

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Unbeknown to her family, it all became too much for her to handle. In the early hours of January 5, she jumped out of her bedroom window, landing headfirst on the concrete below.

Thousands of messages

Carolina's sister, Talita, and some of the teenager's friends say they reported the abusive messages from her ex-boyfriend to Facebook in the hope they would be removed. But, they say, nothing happened.

When bullying goes high-tech

"He was insulting her, mistreating her," Talita said. "We naturally spoke about it with her but she told us not to worry."

Now the Novara prosecutor, Francesco Saluzzo, is looking into the possibility of filing a criminal complaint against Facebook for failing to remove offensive content that may have led to Carolina's suicide.

"In the case of Carolina, it appears some of her friends, some of her relatives, asked for the removal of some of this strong content, and it wasn't removed -- and this played a role in her decision to commit suicide," he said.

Besides the abusive messages on Facebook, on the day leading up to her death, Carolina had received 2,600 vulgar messages via the messaging service WhatsApp, the prosecutor's documents show.

'Have you hurt me enough?'

Carolina left a final letter addressed to her tormenters, which her mother, Cristina Zocca, shared with CNN.

"Are you happy now?" the teenager asked. "Have you hurt me enough? Have you had enough revenge?"

Asked for the company's response, a spokesman for Facebook said, "We are deeply saddened by the tragic death of Carolina Picchio and our hearts go out to her family and friends.

How to protect your child from online bullies

"Harassment has no place on Facebook and we actively encourage teens and parents to report incidences of bullying using the links located throughout the site.

"We remove content reported to us that violates our Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and we escalate reports of harassment and bullying to law enforcement where appropriate."

Italian media reported in May that eight teenage boys ages 15 to 17 were being questioned by authorities on suspicion of incitement to suicide and possession of child pornography.

But Carolina's mother believes Facebook and other social networks must do more to confront the reality of online bullying.

"My battle is to make the social networks responsible, so that there are protections for minors," she said.

"We can't allow for more Carolinas, or other mothers who must cry and be deprived of the lives of their daughters."

Carolina's uncle has posted a video on YouTube dedicated to the teenager and her death.

It has become a rallying point in Italy for the fight against online bullying.

Journalist Barbie Latza Nadeau contributed to this report.

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