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.

Internet censorship arrives in Italy

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

In an effort to regulate the Internet, as part of a package of laws to safeguard national security, the Italian Government has recently proposed an amendment which in practice – if approved – would oblige all Italian ISPs (Internet Service Providers) to block a site (be this a website, a blog or a social media site such as Facebook or Youtube) where material has been posted which is believed to defend or instigate a crime [Bloomberg’s reporting the news here].

This amendment does not talk about merely deleting the material which is believed to be criminal/illegal but about filtering/blocking/blacking out/preventing access to the entire website if the manager of the site did not take down such material. For example, if Facebook did not shut down groups such as the ones which have recently come to the spotlight for praising Mafia bosses, Italian ISPs would be in fact obliged to block access to the whole of Facebook, or be fined (from 50,000 to 250,000 Euros).

The decision of whether such material is in fact illegal would not go to the Courts of Law but would be taken directly by the Minister of the Interior, with no opportunity for trial in front of Magistrates. The amendment has already been approved by the Senate and is waiting to be discussed at the Chamber of Deputies.

Commentators from blogger Beppe Grillo to Italian politician Antonio di Pietro have voiced their protests against this amendment which – if it becomes law – would in fact curtail freedom of expression — and potentially allow the shutting down of thousands of voices on the Web. According to di Pietro [English version here] the amendment is unconstitutional and anti-democratic thereby putting Italy in the same situation of countries such as China and Burma where Internet filtering is widespread. In his blog Beppe Grillo reports an interview with Senator D’Alia [English version here] where the Senator explains how the amendment would in fact work.

A group has been created on Facebook against this amendment – where materials such as editorials and comments can be found – for more information see also: http://www.baoad.it/facebook-censored/.

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.

YouTube enters Italian politics

Italian Minister Antonio Di Pietro from the left-coalition party ‘Italia dei Valori’ is the first Italian politician to make use of YouTube as a tool for political communication. He has posted a video where he reports on this week’s Council of Ministers’ session, and announces this vlog will be followed by weekly posts “in order to achieve complete transparency on the decisions taken in each of the Council’s sessions”. Judging from the number of views (33,000 approx. in less than two days) and from the comments left, this initiative is proving to be a successful move to engage people in the political process (or at least to engage those people who are looking to be engaged — and looking online). Di Pietro is one of the few Italian politicians who has not abandoned his blog once the elections were over (for a review of the Italian political blogosphere see “Apri il Blog e Scappa” [“Open a Blog and then Run Away”], in L’Espresso 12/12/2006).

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