Italy and the end of the Internet?

The Italian Government has recently proposed a draft law aimed at reorganising the legislation of the publishing sector, which requires every citizen engaging in publishing and editorial activities to register them with a central registry. This law covers different media, including the Internet, in practice requiring every Internet user who posts information online (thus carrying out “publishing and editorial activity”) to register their blogs and websites with such a registry. This law would in fact identify bloggers as professional publishers/journalists – thus, bloggers who fail to register would in theory be liable to incur into heavy penalties such as for example defamation.

As news of the draft law have started to circulate, thousands of angry reactions have been flooding into two of the most popular Italian blogs: Beppe Grillo’s blog and Minister Antonio Di Pietro’s blog (one of the first and most active politician bloggers) protesting that the passing of such a law, far from being a mere bureaucratic formality, would in fact mean the end of the free Internet in Italy. Government officials have clarified that such a law would not apply to personal blogs and amateur sites, but no clear guidelines have been stated so far to qualify what counts as a personal vs. professional blog.

The original text of the draft law can be found here [Italian only].

Update: Minister of Communications Paolo Gentiloni on his blog has just commented on the draft law stating that the law should not apply to blogs and personal websites, but only to online professional publishers, such as big online newspapers. This draft law will have to be discussed in Parliament and several parties, from the Greens to Di Pietro’s Italia dei Valori party, have promised to oppose such a law.

Towards civic media? Teaching digital natives how to use web 2.0 tools

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As discussions about the digital divide have been slowly fading into the background (in spite of the persistent inequalities in Internet adoption both between and within countries), the new focus has been shifting on the inequalities in the way the Internet is used by drawing attention to the media skills (or media literacy) which are necessary for citizens to become meaningfully involved online (and thus offline).

As web 2.0 technologies are developing and maturing it is not sufficient anymore to merely observe digital natives (those who are born with the new digital technology and have most successfully integrated it into their everyday lives) and how they are creating online content but it becomes necessary to engage them in meaningful ways so that the incredible potential of Web 2.0 does not remain confined to uploading funny pictures of your cat.

Initiatives such as the one by Prof. Alexandra Juhasz of Pitzer College, CA, “Learning from YouTube” show how teaching digital natives how to use tools such as YouTube will help the development of media skills which should contribute not only to better quality content online but also to more meaningful uses of these online tools so that new media can move from just being entertainment to being also truly civic media.

Oxford Internet Survey 2007

OxIS 2007 reportThe Oxford Internet Institute (OII) at the University of Oxford has just released its 2007 Oxford Internet Survey (OxIS) report – covering findings and trends comparing the 2003, 2005 and 2007 surveys.

You can download the report here and you can read the BBC press coverage the report has received here. The OxIS surveys are national representative surveys of Internet adoption and use in Britain – they are part of the World Internet Project (WIP), which compares Internet adoption and use across 25 countries.

e-democracy second life style

Itching for statistics, insights and data on the use of second life for political and educational purposes – who are the people who tune in? probably the usual suspects – but what do they think about the whole process? is the technology living up to their expectations? are these online forums a valuable form of consultation for both users and politicians? is this just a fad, or is this a trend which is here to stay? what is its real impact on the political process?
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(This is a video from Internet-savvy Italian politician Antonio di Pietro which provides the highlights of the first second life meeting of his party Italia dei Valori with journalists and the public – in his opening speech he equates the event to the “agorà of ancient Greece” – the video is in Italian only, but it is an interesting look behind the scenes – for a commentary in english check out his blog)

Bonding vs. Bridging Social Capital: new evidence from America

Robert Putnam‘s latest work on ethnic diversity and social capital, which shows a negative correlation between the two, has been published: Putnam, R.D. (2007) E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century. The 2006 Joahn Skytte Prize Lecture”, Scandinavian Political Studies, 30(2):137-174. The study presents results based on the data from the 2000 Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey. Another survey has been carried out in 2006. It will be interesting to look at the over time changes when the findings from the new survey are made available.

Notwithstanding the debate which will certainly ensue, due to the policy implications of Putnam’s findings, the study shows the importance of looking at the exogenous factors which influence the formation of social capital, measured as social networks of reciprocity and social trust. A review article can be found in the Guardian here.

A Typology of Information and Communication Technology Users

The Pew Internet and American Life Project has just released a new report: “A Typology of Information and Communication Technology Users” where they provide a profile of users of ICTs according to their technology assets, their actions, and their attitudes about ICTs. The report identifies three main typologies of users: ‘Elite Tech Users’ (31% of American adults), ‘Middle-of-the-road tech users’ (20%) and ‘Few Tech Assets’ users (49%), which are further divided into sub-typologies.

Half of the population is still made up by those with ‘Few Tech Assets’: the ‘Inexperienced Experimenters’ (8%), the ‘Light but Satisfied’ (15%), the ‘Indifferents’ (11%) and finally the ‘Off The Networks’ (15%). Interestingly, these have had some taste of new technologies (with the exception of the Off the Networks) but they’d rather continue doing without them. The “Omnivores”, the real Web 2.0 enthusiasts and users, make up only 8% of the American adult population.

Participatory culture or digital narcissism?

A forthcoming book ‘The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture and Assaulting Our Economy’ by Andrew Keen is questioning the euphoria which is surrounding Web 2.0 and user-generated content online from blogs to social networking sites to Wikipedia and citizen journalism. Keen questions current online contents and practices highlighting how these are more a form of digital narcissism and self-representation than a participatory culture. He raises critical questions with important social implications for democratic politics and notions of citizenship. More of this on his blog.

Research methods and the Internet

There is lots of talk about how the Internet and new media are transforming political communication and the political process – however, little talk about another major issue related to this: what are the best research methods to go about studying these changes? Are ‘traditional’ methods from survey analysis of users to content analysis of websites the most appropriate tools to capture the complex reality out there? Politicians are increasingly using different Internet applications simultaneously in order to reach their audience, from YouTube, to Flickr, blogs and online forums. How do we collect data on these fragmented messages? How do we sample blogs? Are surveys the best way to learn about the way people use the Internet and how they look for information online? Wouldn’t experiments be better instead? How valid are online surveys?