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Entire Italian debunking site Butac.it taken offline by court order due to one disputed article

Butac.it, one of Italy’s leading debunking sites, was taken completely offline Friday morning (local time) by order of the Court of Bologna. All of its content is now unreachable and has been replaced with this notice.

Its founder, Michelangelo Coltelli, says that this extreme measure is linked to a defamation lawsuit filed in relation to a single article published in 2015 by a registered physician who promotes holistic medicine on Italian TV. Here is Coltelli’s public statement, translated verbatim: “A month ago we received notice of a libel action for a 2015 article. The action did not demand the removal of the article, which therefore remained online. However, the Public Prosecutor of Brindisi evidently deemed that the entire site must be seized because of that single article. The damage to BUTAC’s image is clearly great. The article mentioned a registered physician who peddled holistic medicine on TV (RAI channels). The only thing that can be useful is that many of you get the word out.”

In a public tweet (shown below), BUTAC's admin added that “We’re working with our lawyers toward a repeal of the seizure order. We place our trust in the institutions, with which we have worked more than once when asked. In the meantime, please be patient and we hope you understand.” This tweet refers to the work done pro bono by Coltelli for the President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies as part of the Bastabufale (“Enough hoaxes”) initiative to contrast the fake news phenomenon in Italian media and online.

Taking an entire site offline due to a single disputed article is unusual, and the takedown has been reported by several prominent Italian media outlets (Il Post, TGCom24, Vice, La Stampa, Repubblica, Giornalettismo), including the national news agency ANSA. Noted Italian journalist and La7 news chief editor Enrico Mentana has stated on Facebook that “taking down a whole informational site is a grave measure, almost like a Fascist censorship”.

This story is developing and further details will be posted as soon as they become available.

Update (7 April): National TV channel Rai reported on the takedown, adding that the Federazione Nazionale della Stampa (the Italian union of journalists) has described the seizure of the entire Butac website as “shocking and disproportionate”.

Update (10 April): Butac.it is now back online, with the exception of the article in dispute, which relates to holistic physician Claudio Pagliara.

Full disclosure: I am a personal friend and colleague of Butac.it’s founder, Michelangelo Coltelli, and I, too, have worked pro bono with the President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies on the same assignment.

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