the internet and politics: analyzing the 2008 us election – part 2

Here are four videos from the Berkman Internet and Politics conference held at Harvard last week.

A conversation with Joe Trippi and Ari Melber
A conversation with Jeremy Bird, Obama for America
A conversation with Marshall Ganz
The Q&A session with Marshall Ganz and Jeremy Bird
A conversation with Yochai Benkler and Eszter Hargittai

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understanding the Internet: Italian politicians go online

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

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lessons in democracy from America – part 2

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….

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the Internet and politics: analyzing the 2008 US election

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

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Internet access in Italy remains low: choice or constraints?

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

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when your analog dossier becomes digital

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In their book Born Digital: Understading the First Generation of Digital Natives, John Palfrey and Urs Gasser introduce us to the notion of “digital dossier”, the collection of all the information and of the little traces that you are leaving behind every time you go online, while checking your email, posting on Facebook, when you Twitter or when you leave a comment on a blog. The digital dossier, as this video we made for our Berkman Digital Natives project shows perfectly and simply, is not only made up of the traces you leave online, but also of all that information that other people post about you. And while you may be aware of all the traces you are leaving behind, and you may have a certain degree of control over it, you might be less aware and have even less control on the traces that other people leave about you. Continue reading

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Next steps for president-elect Obama and We the people

[Cross-posted on Berkman’s Internet & Democracy blog]

Today an outstanding panel gathered at Harvard Law School to discuss Obama’s election and the next steps for Obama’s administration and the American people: “In Order To Form a More Perfect Union: Next Steps for President-Elect Obama and For We the People”. Panelists included:

* Douglas Blackmon, Atlanta Bureau Chief, Wall Street Journal
* Alan Dershowitz, Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, Harvard Law School
* David Gergen, Professor of Public Service, Harvard Kennedy School; CNN Political Commentator
* Lani Guinier, Bennett Boskey Professor of Law, Harvard Law School
* Orlando Patterson, John Cowles Professor of Sociology, Harvard University
* María Teresa Petersen, Executive Director, Voto Latino
* William Weld, Partner, McDermott Will & Emery LLP; Former Governor of Massachusetts

Professor Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., Executive Director of Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race & Justice acted as moderator. He opened the discussion by asking panelists how we should assess the election of Barack Obama.

Continue reading

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How Facebook is changing Italian social and political life

[Cross-posted on Berkman’s Internet and Democracy blog]

Two events have recently shaken Italian cyberspace: the launch of the Italian version of Facebook and the comments of Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi after the election of President-elect Barack Obama. I believe that after these two events Italian social and political life may never be the same again.

I do not think I am exaggerating trends here, although empirical data for now is scarce. Being myself one of the early adopters of Facebook, at the start I only had a few Italian Facebook friends in my mainly Anglo-Saxon circle – most of my Italian friends were offline, and those already on Facebook like myself were mainly living abroad or they were back in Italy after having spent some time abroad. This was hardly surprising, given that Italy still has one of the lowest rates of Internet use in Europe (35.6% according to a 2006 Istat report). But in the past couple of months Facebook has been literally invaded by Italians, quickly helping Italy reach first place for the greatest (and fastest) exponential growth in adoption of Facebook by a country. Italians seem to have a natural affinity with Facebook – they are not only joining in huge numbers (Facebook is now the fifth most popular site in Italy) but they seem to have seamlessly integrated this technology in their everyday life: Facebook is fast becoming the new “telefonino”.

My surprise, however, did not stop here. With the election of President-elect Barack Obama and the subsequent unfortunate comments made by the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi a huge wave of protest has swept Italian cyberspace. The New York Times article, which gave the news, received 2000 comments in a couple of days. Groups to protest the Prime Minister’s words have been literally mushrooming on Facebook overnight – reaching thousands of members in a matter of days (one only needs to enter ‘Berlusconi’ in the search box to check them out). The group ‘I bet I can find 1,000,000 people who dislike Silvio Berlusconi’ has reached 70,000 members, with an increase of almost 10,000 members in less than one week subsequent to the diplomatic incident. And the protest is quickly moving beyond Facebook’s boundaries. Notspeakinginmyname.com is a new website where people can upload a photo of themselves holding a banner stating that the Italian prime minister is not speaking in their names. Clearly young Italians’ discontent (as it is young people who are mainly inhabiting Facebook) and frustration with the current political situation and with their political representatives is finding in the Web a channel to let youth voice be heard.

Italians have just discovered the power of the Internet – which will make for interesting developments for the Italian media ecology and especially for political participation, in a country where the Web is still viewed with suspicion by most political candidates, with a few exceptions. This shift in social habits is only starting and whether it will gain momentum will depend on whether it will reach a tipping point (or a critical mass) – although some of the protest groups on Facebook seem to have already gotten there.

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lessons in democracy from America

I just finished listening to the first press conference of President elect Barack Obama. While acknowledging the great challenges which are lying ahead of his adminstration, starting from the catastrophic state of the global economy, what President Obama (and boy it feels good to write that word ‘president’ down!) kept emphasizing in his talk, was the need to to act together as a nation in order to face the challenges ahead: “I know we will succeed if we put aside partisanship and politics and work together as one nation“. This emphasis on unity and bi-partisanship, which has been the strength of Obama’s electoral campaign, strikes me as something which can be easily taken for granted but which is too often not practiced in everyday politics. I am thinking of my country, Italy, where the population and the electorate are split in half – and where the ruling political class exacerbates this rift, not only by avoiding engaging in dialogue with the political opposition but by willfully seeking to de-legitimize political opponents and their policies – thus reinforcing, rather than smoothing out, existing social divisions and alienating people from the political process.

I was lucky enough to attend today a brilliant talk held at Harvard’s department of Afro-American Studies, by three outstanding scholars such as William Julius Wilson, Orlando Patterson and Lani Guinier on the election of President Obama and the future of race in America. According to Prof. Wilson it was Barack Obama’s inclusive, unifying message during the campaign which got him the support from voters from all racial backgrounds and ultimately made him successful in his bid for the presidency. Prof. Wilson explained how Obama has succeeded in creating a sense of interdependence between different social groups – and when different groups believe they need one another to obtain their aims they will cooperate better, and in so doing they will also reduce prejudice against each other.

This idea of cooperation and unity to better overcome social problems (and prejudice and social divisions), is reflected in the extraordinary grassroots efforts which have gone into this election campaign especially amongst younger people. In this election young people have been amongst the greatest supporters of Obama, who has manged to mobilize them, out of their political apathy, to unprecedented levels. They made their voices heard not only through online activism but also through face to face canvassing – and ultimately with their votes. As Lani Guinier emphasised today, this was another factor which made Obama’s bid successful. And the greatest significance of this activism by young people lies in the fact that it has managed to change politics from the bottom-up, thus contributing to the creation of a new generation of leadership, which will contribute to the sustainability of this exercise in democracy (and social capital!) in years to come.

America has given the world the greatest lesson in democracy – and we can only hope that the sense of renewed hope, which is presently being felt not only in America but all over the world, will help younger people in other countries too feel empowered enough that they can feel that they can too make change happen.

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Internet overtakes newspapers as main source of campaign news

[Cross-posted on Berkman’s Internet & Democracy blog]

There were many firsts in this 2008 election cycle: amongst them the pivotal role played by the Internet in engaging voters, raising funds and organizing volunteers and party supporters. But the most striking trend to emerge was that the Internet has overtaken newspapers as the main source where people look for campaign news.

A recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press (full report here) has looked at the different media sources where people look for campaign information between October 2004 and 2008. According to the poll:

–    the percentage of respondents who reports turning to the Internet as their first or second choice for getting campaign information has tripled between 2004 and 2008 from 10% to 33% (a staggering 23 percentage point change).

–    At the same time the percentage of people who mention newspapers as their first or second choice for getting campaign news has remained stable at 29% between 2004 and 2008.

TV remains the most prominent source of campaign information. What is striking, however, is that especially amongst young people the Internet is largely the new place where to go and look for political news. 49% of 18-29 year olds and 37% of 30-49 year olds turned to the Internet compared to 29% of 50-64 year olds and 12% of the over 65. For newspapers we see the exact opposite trend: only 17% of 18-29 year olds and 23% of 30-49 year olds looked for campaign news in newspapers (both percentages below the general population average), compared to 34% of 50-64 year olds and 45% of over 65.

Clearly these data show that it is not only ‘digital natives’ who are turning increasingly to new media to get their political information. The 30-49 age group is also choosing technology over more ‘traditional’ sources of information, suggesting that an important transformation is taking place in news consumption habits. This is certainly aided by the increasing attention paid to new technologies by campaign strategists – but also by the growing bottom-up participation encouraged by blogs, social networking sites and interactive features of online news sites.

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