New article published: Political Protest Italian Style

The article I co-authored with my colleague Alberto Pepe, from UCLA, has been published in the December Issue of First Monday: “Political protest Italian–style: The blogosphere and mainstream media in the promotion and coverage of Beppe Grillo’s V–day” First Monday, Volume 14, Number 12 – 7 December 2009.

Here is the Abstract:

We analyze the organization, promotion and public perception of “V–day”, a political rally that took place on 8 September 2007, to protest against corruption in the Italian Parliament. Launched by blogger Beppe Grillo, and promoted via a word–of–mouth mobilization on the Italian blogosphere, V–day brought close to one million Italians in the streets on a single day, but was mostly ignored by mainstream media. This article is divided into two parts. In the first part, we analyze the volume and content of online articles published by both bloggers and mainstream news sources from 14 June (the day V–day was announced) until 15 September 2007 (one week after it took place). We find that the success of V–day can be attributed to the coverage of bloggers and small–scale local news outlets only, suggesting a strong grassroots component in the organization of the rally. We also find a dissonant thematic relationship between content published by blogs and mainstream media: while the majority of blogs analyzed promote V–day, major mainstream media sources critique the methods of information production and dissemination employed by Grillo. Based on this finding, in the second part of the study, we explore the role of Grillo in the organization of the rally from a network analysis perspective. We study the interlinking structure of the V–day blogosphere network, to determine its structure, its levels of heterogeneity, and resilience. Our analysis contradicts the hypothesis that Grillo served as a top–down, broadcast–like source of information. Rather, we find that information about V–day was transferred across heterogeneous nodes in a moderately robust and resilient core network of blogs. We speculate that the organization of V–day represents the very first case, in Italian history, of a political demonstration developed and promoted primarily via the use of social media on the Web.

has Internet use changed the number of friends you have?

A forthcoming study by Hua Wang (USC Annenberg School for Communication) and Barry Wellman (University of Toronto) “Social Connectivity in America” has looked at how social networks of friendship have been changing from 2002 and 2007 and how this is related to different levels of Internet use.

The study was prompted by fears that Americans have been becoming increasingly disengaged from public life and disconnected from their peers as exemplified by the work of Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam’s on social capital “Bowling Alone” (2000), who blamed television as the main culprit for the breaking up of the texture of American social and political life.

What Wang and Wellman find – via an analysis of two American national surveys of Internet adoption and use, from the World Internet Project – is that networks of friendship amongst adult Americans aged 25-74 remain abundant and in fact they have been growing between 2002 and 2007. In addition, they found that this trend was similar amongst non-users of the Internet, light-users, moderate users and heavy users – dispelling the initial idea that the more time you spend online the more likely you are to become socially isolated and even develop depression. In fact, the study also found that heavy users of the Internet were particularly socially active, having the highest number of friends both online and offline. Continue reading “has Internet use changed the number of friends you have?”

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”

Ben Rattray on Change.org

Live blogging from the workshop “From Social Network to Social Movement” at Harvard Law School. Ben Rattray, Founder and CEO of Change.org is presenting. You can also follow on Twitter: #HLSsocnetworks

Rise of the social web has been huge. Activism by proxy – people are interested in organizations and these organizations act on their behalf. They get information from direct email and the organization acts. People by themselves are unable to take action at the national level so they need proxies, outside of traditional media, for example through blogs. The Web would disintermediate existing organizations, allowing people to get together and collectively running action. So we have a toolset to create action and to allow NGOs to organize. Continue reading “Ben Rattray on Change.org”

Marshall Ganz on narratives and social movements

Live blogging from the workshop “From Social Network to Social Movement” at Harvard Law School. Marshall Ganz from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, presenting The role of narratives as leadership practice in social movements. You can also follow on Twitter: #HLSsocnetworks

Social movements are a form of association. Tocqueville studied the problem of individualism and he discovered the rich associational life in the US and found it encouraging for 3 reasons: 1) active associations brought individuals out of their silos and brought them together to learn their common interest 2) at least theoretically, the promise of democracy that equality of voice will balance the equality of resources: people coming together around a common interest can mobilize power 3) these associations were voluntary, freed from coercion, so they serve as crucibles for value renewal. Continue reading “Marshall Ganz on narratives and social movements”

David Lazer on the properties of network power

Live blogging from the workshop “From Social Network to Social Movement” at Harvard Law School. David Lazer from the Harvard Kennedy School is presenting on the properties of network power. You can also follow on Twitter: #HLSsocnetworks

Definition of network: a network is a set of units (be them people or organizations) and a set of attachments amongst those units. Definition of power: 1) Individual and group access to resources. Where you are in the network influences your access to resources. How does power flow from people who have power to actual formulation of policy? 2) Collective capacity to organize – how do networks enable or inhibit the growth of certain social movements? Continue reading “David Lazer on the properties of network power”

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”

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 “Next steps for president-elect Obama and We the people”

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.

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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