The Internet and the 2008 US election: participation and/or fragmentation?

The Pew Internet and American Life Project has just released a report on the role of the Internet in the 2008 US election, which analyses trends in how people consume political news & information and the ways they use the internet to engage with politics. Here are some of the key findings:

More than half  (55%) of the voting-age population has used the Internet to get involved in the political process during the election year (74% of Internet users).

The survey findings show that the Internet has become a paramount tool for people’s engagement in the political process, not only as a source of information (60% of Internet users have gone online to look for political information in 2008 compared to 22% in 1996), but as a tool for active participation. 18% of Internet users actively engaged online by posting comments on the campaign on online forums such as blogs or social networking sites and 45% watched online videos related to the campaign.

Young voters  (18-24 year olds) showed the highest levels of political involvement online. They engaged heavily in the political debate through social networking sites: two-thirds of young people with a social networking profile took part in some form of online political activity. Continue reading “The Internet and the 2008 US election: participation and/or fragmentation?”

Joe Green on Facebook Causes

Live blogging from the workshop “From Social Network to Social Movement” at Harvard Law School. Joe Green, Founder of Facebook Causes is presenting. You can also follow on Twitter: #HLSsocnetworks

Facts on Facebook Causes: 50 million people using it, 250.000 active causes, 7 million dollars raised, average donation $22

(1) Why does FB matter? 200 million people using it. This is the Internet getting real. Community online at the beginning was people in Usenet groups talking about Star Wars using pseudonyms. Real identity online has been a holy grail for a long time. Facebook profiles on the other hand use real names [CdG = is this equal to real identities?] – so it is much harder now to fake identity than before. Social graph – there are nodes and connections between the nodes – the nodes being people. That allows real world social dynamics to be brought on the Internet. Continue reading “Joe Green on Facebook Causes”

the new facebook home page

In the past couple of days Facebook has been rolling out to its users a new homepage. This is the second time that Facebook changes dramatically its look. While there was great upheaval against the first change in the home page compared to the original Facebook (where fun applications, superpoking and friend hugging held center stage), I think it can be safely argued that the change was a great improvement in terms of making Facebook a much more functional website where to share information (in the form of links, photos and news feeds) with other people in your network.

This second change in the look of Facebook, however (which now makes your homepage very much look like Twitter, a site which has been growing exponentially in popularity) has a new rationale behind it. It is not anymore about making the sharing of information with your friends easier, it is about providing real time access to information about your friends. Indeed, status updates now appear to be the same as any other wall post made by your friends, while finding out about other friends activities (posting of photos, groups joint, people friended) is now messy and more difficult. Continue reading “the new facebook home page”

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 “the Internet and politics: analyzing the 2008 US election”

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 “Internet access in Italy remains low: choice or constraints?”

when your analog dossier becomes digital

[youtube width=”315″ height=”235″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79IYZVYIVLA[/youtube]

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 “when your analog dossier becomes digital”

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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