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.

beppe grillo enters italian politics

Comedian/blogger Beppe Grillo has announced today on his blog that he wil be entering Italian politics by running to become a candidate of the Left wing party Partito Democratico. His decision has startled many, given his views and actions, which have often been labeled as ‘anti-politics’, causing a wide array of reactions from his supporters (as of today his blog post has gathered more than 2,300 comments) and politicians. Amongst the issues he wants to tackle on his political agenda, free information, free wi-fi, and his now famous ‘clean parliament’ campaign.

Italy as seen by the Italian blogosphere

Vittorio Zambardino writes today in La Repubblica about a recent research study carried out on the Italian blogosphere: what are Italian bloggers writing about? The article presents very interesting graphs, which show the top tags used in 2009 and the topics Italian bloggers write about.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the top tag in 2009 was Silvio Berlusconi, which is followed by two current affairs related tags: the economic crisis and the Abruzzo earthquake – which are followed by Facebook in fourth place. In the top 15 most used tags we also find two football teams, Inter Milan and AC Milan, president Obama and the Pope.

Amongst the most discussed topics we find: 1) current affairs 2) soccer 3) the Internet 4) sport 5) politics. These are followed by a rather detailed list of less discussed topics from cinema, to art, to cooking, to music and so on. Finding current affairs at first place and politics at 5th place was indeed rather reassuring, supporting the idea that the Internet is indeed used as a virtual agora for discussion or a virtual civil society, rather than merely a tool for entertainment purposes. It should be noticed, however, that Maria de Filippi (TV presenter of Mediaset reality TV shows) was the top tag in the ‘entertainment category’, where we can find blogger Beppe Grillo at 4th place, and journalists Marco Travaglio and Michele Santoro further down in the list. Finally, finding the Internet as third most discussed topic, was also unsurprising – this is a common finding from research of different country/language blogospheres, where a big proportion of bloggers is made up by IT/media enthusiasts who blog about the medium they are using for communication (see for example our research on different language blogospheres from the Berkman’s Internet and Democracy project).

While the methodology used for this study is not illustrated in this article, it certainly provides a really good snapshot of what the online community and bloggers are talking about: this is very informative of what is going on in Italian society – and should be compared to the news agenda of mainstream media, in order to establish the role of the Internet in public discourse.

Beppe Grillo and the power of the Web

Yesterday the New York Times published an article on Italy and its current political malaise and a very good video on the Beppe Grillo phenomenon – Beppe Grillo, comic, now blogger (after being banned from television for his political satire) has managed to rally together a new political movement of people who are disaffected with the current government and the social and political situation. Grillo himself states that his popularity is entirely due to the Web – his blog is the most popular blog in Italy, and it is certainly more popular than the blogs of those politicians who have an online presence (the NYT reports Grillo’s blog is the tenth most linked to blog in the entire world). The Beppe Grillo’s movement has spawned Meetup.com groups all over the world: Beppe Grillo Meetups now count 68,000 members in 27 countries with 7,000 events organised so far. While critics argue that Beppe Grillo’s political actions are more ‘destructive’ than ‘constructive’ and hence not conducive to political dialogue and reform, there is no doubt that the Beppe Grillo phenomenon is a clear testimony to the power of the Web for political mobilization. Whether this movement will lead to political change and other political outcomes is a different matter – certainly this critical mass of people would not have come together if it wasn’t for Grillo’s web presence – and this is even more significant when considering that Italy has one of the lowest rates of Internet adoption and use in Europe.

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.

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