Weapon of mass rebellion


Italian politics are going through a period of change. Did I hear anyone rolling their eyes and saying “Another!” ?

You could not be more wrong; the innate practicality of the italian people, survivors despites all odds means that in the 50 years after the end of Second World War we have gone through a revolving door of sub-year governments, yet despite all the shuffle at the top, barely anything changed in postwar Italy. The two big blocks of Christian Democrats and Communists engaged in a ritual confrontation that reminds me of the aimless duelling in the movie.

The first discontinuity happened with the arrival of mr. Berlusconi, who more or less defined italian politics for the next 20 years and today is being dislodged by another showbiz personality, stand-up-comedian-turned-politician Beppe Grillo.

If the advent of commercial TV was the technology powering mr. Berlusconi’s ascent, the Internet is no doubt the technology propelling mr. Grillo’s. Except the Internet is much more difficult to control.

In fact mr. Grillo’s blog was a brilliant intuition: kick-started by his popularity and feeding back into it, it amassed millions of followers lashing at the ineptitude and corruption of mainstream politicians. By shrewdly refusing all but the most occasional contact with traditional media, when it launched the idea of a “non-party” political grassroots movement, (FiveStarMovement of M5S) the centralized resources like the blog and the mailing list became the only vehicles for communications among a growing group of activists.

At the last natianal polls, this movement won an enormous 25% of vote, making it the de facto second-largest grouping, where – still – the shots are called by mr. Grillo himself and his associate mr. Casaleggio, a second-rate 90s web entrepreneur; Socialists will need the support of M5S in the upper chamber to form a government. mr. Grillo vehemently denied such support to Socialists or anybody else, stirring quite a bit of debate among his electoral base and MPs, who see an alliance with the left as the best way to push through some of the reforms they desire.

Screen Shot 2013-03-11 at 11.46.59 AMGiven M5S’ motto of “One man, one vote”, it is not surprising that many activists are therefore calling for an internal referendum to make this critical decision, to which demand mr. Grillo flatly said “Fuck off”.

Not the first time this autocratic behaviour has irked activists: in local elections, dissenting members were ejected from the “non party” on grounds of the use of the logo and name which are the private property of mr. Casaleggio.

But elected MPs cannot be “fired” as easily: once elected they hold their seats until the end of their mandate or the end of the legislature, whichever comes first.

So dissenting activists have decided to attack the leadership of M5S using their same tactics and launched deputati2stelle.com (anonymized via Tor) where MPs are invited to leave the M5S grouping to join the Mixed group of MPs under the rallying cry of #liberi5stelle (=free5stars).

The very interesting part is that while mr. Casaleggio was able to have a @liberi5stelle Twitter handle banned on grounds it infringes on his private property, the hash #liberi5stelle is continuing to be in use and cannot be banned.

I am not sure if this was part of the design since the inception of Twitter, but hashtags truly ARE the weapons of mass rebellion: they cannot be tracked or banned, anyone can use them and propagate them, and through the trending mechanism can reach huge audiences quickly; moreover, they bounce back and forth between offline and online easily and can be stuck on just about anything.

If Obama’s campaign broke new ground on the coordinated use of Social Media to win popular support and fund-raising, italian politics are definitely showing what this century politics may look like. Stay tuned!

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