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The Day Social Media United Italy
Posted on June 14th 2011
On June 12th and 13th, the Italian people voted on referendums for four different pieces of legislation. Known in the social media world as "4 Sì" (4 Yeses), the Italians went to the polls to vote on two different laws to keep water publicly owned, to end nuclear energy and in a blowing strike to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, they voted to make public officials and government representatives accountable to the law and eligible to stand trial.
Italy has long been a country known for corruption. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been elected three times (currently serving his third term) and also owns approximately 70 percent of Italy's media companies. How is that for public sphere control? The same man who owns the media, runs the country. Funny how that worked out, isn't it? The man who controls communication and its messages governs Italy's people.
One communication channel Berlusconi can't control is social media. Italian voters, in particularly the youth generation, took to Facebook and Twitter to start an all out campaign for "4 Sì". For months now Italians have been using various Facebook features like Group pages and Fan pages applications to encourage and remind people to vote in the referendum.
To pass, the referendum needed over 50% of the vote or just over 25 million votes. Even before voting closed yesterday, over 28 million had voted SI!
Why is social media so important for a nation like Italy?
These recent election results show how social media is one communication still controlled by the public sphere. Regardless of how many media channels Berlusconi may own, the Italian people have been expressing their disgust and disappointment in Italy's current state of affairs via social media. Berlusconi may have escaped legal proceedings before, but the Italian people are no longer going to tolerate his behavior. Their Prime Minister is currently involved in 4 legal trials - one including sex with a prostitute and a minor at his villa, another for the misuse of government power.
The Italian public sphere of communication runs poorly. In addition to Berlusconi, the Catholic Church still has a lot of power in this country. Italy is a country where women's rights are worse than third world countries (Italy currently ranks 78th, behind Kazakhstan in women's rights). Social media is fast becoming the one outlet where Italian people have a voice superior to their Prime Minister and the Church.
Thousands of Italians joined Facebook groups for the Referedum. Twitter Italia was buzzing with referendum news. Between the 12th and 13th of June, Italians proudly declared on Facebook that they had voted.
The social media campaign for "4 Sì" brought Italian voters out in record numbers for referendum voting. In the end they voted "Sì" to all four pieces of legislation: YES to keeping water public, YES to holding government officials accountable to the law and YES to ending nuclear energy. It was a great success for Italy, known as "the day Italians finally said no to Silvio Berlusconi". Social media is what is keeping democracy running in today's society, an outlet for the voice of the public. I truly believe that without social media, the Italian people would have yet to stand up to Berlusconi.