A few days ago in the IHT Evgeny Morozov, a Fellow at the Open Society Institute in New York, has published an interesting op-ed entitled: “Digital renegades, or captives?” where he analyzes the role of the Internet in promoting civic engagement in authoritarian regimes. Evgeny asks: “What if the original premise was wrong and the Internet is not a great force for democratic change but rather the clay that keeps authoritarian regimes together?” Evgeny alerts us to the dangers of seeing the Internet as a magic wand, which will necessarily promote democratic change and warns us about the importance of context (America vs. non-Western European countries) when analyzing the role of the Internet in aiding political change and political participation.
Evgeny goes on to argue (and I quote his words, again): “We have to be aware of the fact that the Internet has given the youth living in controlled societies infinite venues for digital entertainment – without any religious or social censorship – that may not necessarily be enhancing their digital sense of citizenship and civic engagement. Risking the comfort of their bedrooms – with their hard-drives full of digital goodies – for the gloom of a prison cell does not appeal to many of them. The governments are all too happy to promote this new cult of ‘cyber-hedonism’.”
In other words, the Internet is just a tool – we must avoid technologically deterministic arguments which stress the effects of technology by taking it out of context, and by devoiding it of social agency. Evgeny suggests two ideal types (a la Weber): ‘digital renegades’ vs. ‘captives’ which I think are much more than just another trendy name, but they are two categories which may well turn out to be a really useful analytical tool in studying young people’s civic engagement.
[Cross-posted on Internet and Democracy blog and Digital Natives blog]
More and more Italian politicians have been jumping on the Internet bandwagon. The Education Minister Mariarosa Gelmini has started a YouTube channel, where she announces with a video that she hopes this channel will allow her to listen to people’s opinion, in order to “implement change together”. The video has reached 260,000 views since it was posted a week ago, and 8,000 comments. A few days ago, Renato Brunetta, the Minister for Public Administration and Innovation, has opened a Facebook page, gathering around 14,000 supporters and around 1,200 wall posts/comments. He also posts a video, in which he states that this is his first effort to reach people online, so that they can contact him with their views, and he hopes in this way he will also be able to keep them posted about his initiatives and activities. Continue reading “understanding the Internet: Italian politicians go online”
Yesterday at the Kennedy School of Government I attended the IOP Forum “War Stories: Inside Campaign 2008”, where David Axelrod (Chief Strategist, Obama Campaign) and David Plouffe (Campaign Manager, Obama Campaign) discussed with Rick Davis (Campaign Manager, McCain Campaign) and Bill McInturff (Chief Pollster, McCain Campaign) the 2008 presidential campaign, in an open forum. This forum was part of a tradition, the John F. Kennedy, Jr. forum series organized by the Harvard Institute of Politics, which for years has been inviting politicians, academics and journalists to debate current issues in front of an audience, made up mostly by students but also by journalists, politicians etc. These forums are moderated and they conclude with a question and answers sessions with people in the audience. As I sat there listening to the campaigners recall events and anecdotes from the campaign, and analyzing achievements and mistakes made, I could not help but thinking about the transparency and accountability promoted by such events. And wondering when there will be a day in my home country when similar events will take place….
A group of McCain and Obama campaigners, academics, activists, bloggers and journalists have gathered for two days at Harvard at a conference organized by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society examining the role that the Internet has played in the the 2008 US election. Parts of the conversation were under Chatam house rule, nevertheless here are some highlights of the lively discussions that have taken place. Some preliminary outputs of the meeting can be found here in essay format and other Berkman colleagues have blogged about the event here and at the Internet and Democracy blog.
The first day of the discussion focused very much on the role played by the Internet in the campaign. Did Obama win thanks to the Internet? Did the Internet play a role in engaging people who would have not otherwise been engaged? The first question was prominent, and the message that was stressed many times over and over, especially by Obama campaigners, was that the Internet served as a wonderful tool to coordinate and link online and offline action, with the technology playing a central but complementary role to the efforts of offline grassroots organizing. I came home with the feeling that top-down strategy played the key role in getting people involved, but that success depended very much also on the bottom-up grassroots efforts and energy that Obama and his campaign people managed to mobilize and draw upon. Continue reading “the Internet and politics: analyzing the 2008 US election”
A report published yesterday by Eurostat on Internet use and access in the 27 European member states, Norway, Iceland and Croatia, shows that Internet access in Italian households has remained stable at 42% in the last three years (it was 40% in 2006 and 43% in 2007) compared to the European average of 60%. This figure places Italy amongst the four countries with the lowest rates of Internet access in Europe, only followed by Greece (31%), Romania (30%) and Bulgaria (25%), which have all experienced a big growth since their very low levels of 2006. The percentage of Italian households with a broadband connection, on the other hand, has grown from 16% in 2006, to 25% in 2007 and 31% in 2008 – which, however, is low compared to the EU average of 48%, and again is only higher than the percentage in Bulgaria (21%), Greece (22%) and Romania (13%).
What are the reasons which keep Italians from going online? Continue reading “Internet access in Italy remains low: choice or constraints?”