Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Italy: another revolt of the new media new left

"The still fledgling new left used Facebook, Twitter, emails and blogs. Their victory was not just a protest vote - it was a victory of new media over old, in a country where, as everyone knows, the old media are dominated by one man and his family."

BBC News - Italians find voice and punish Silvio Berlusconi

One of the key developments of the late 20th Century was the emergence of TV as the domiate cultural platform. TV required massive amounts momey for every minute of production. Therefore only two models of TV production could work: State of Big Business. And TV has been dominated by both models and only these two models. TV is always being produced by some large well funded group.

The Rolling Stones has a story on Fox News which illustrates how TV culture plays in to the hands of a small group of powerful players. Currently Fox's Cable news service has an insignificant news gathering service. It is talking heads reporting state lines little different than Syrian TV or North Korean TV. For decades the fact that these agencies were "free market" was taken as proof that they were "free", but the precise opposite has happened. Over the past 2 decades free market forces have made news in many western nations more and more like State controlled media in dictatorship: biased, fear mongering, uninformative and blind to alternative views. Pick up almost any newspaper in the UK and you will see what the free market of Thacher has done to the press.

Newspapers come over from the 19th Century but suffer from the same problem. It costs a great deal of money to print and circulate a paper based news paper every day.

With deregulation from 1980 to 2000 it became possible for single men to hold hundreds of papers and dozens of channels. In Italy this concentration of TV and newspapers in the hands of one man created the basis for a virtual dictatorship. For years Berlusconi was able count on his control of the media to get his message out.

Well that seems to have ended because of social media.

In the recently referendums Berlusconi has suffered a truly epic set of defeats. Berlusconi was opposed to four major referendum issues that required over 50% of the voters voting to be binding. Berlusconi's massive media engine was telling people not to vote, and if they voted to vote No.

Well almost 60% of the population did vote (pretty high under any conditions) and Berlusconi's side lost by a 95% yes vote. Generally 95% votes in any direction only go to dictators in stagged elections. In the history of modern democracy such a massive defeat is almost unheard of.

Certainly social media did not cause this. A combination of poor economics, repeated scandals, and exhaustion with the old man motivated people to vote. But social media gave local groups large enough voice to not only get their message, but to engage people and give them the confidence to go out there.

This is the biggest change of old media to big media. Watching TV is a passive activity. If we have an opinion we are reduced to ranting nut cases yelling at the TV. In new media there is a way to engage opinion. It might be the case that our opinions are lost in a flood of others, or drown out by a few massive sites, but the reality remains that the media itself is not telling us that we are powerless.

If we engage in Social Media, even if we are not heard, we hear ourselves. The media itself does not leave us voiceless the way TV does. Large companies like Yahoo and Faecbook may limit our access to the media, but users are proving very good at finding work arounds to even the worst online corporate censorship.

Using social media tells us again and again that we have a voice. Even if we are not heard we still exercise our productive and publishing of opinion, which builds self confidence which we believe is behind a great deal of what we are seeing.

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