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What Do Berlusconi and 9/11 Tell Us About Government 2.0?

by Andrea Di Maio  |  December 20, 2009  |  4 Comments

On December 13 2009 the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was injured in Milan (Italy) by a mentally disturbed individual who hit him with a statuette. Shortly afterwards Facebook and other social media have been stormed by discussions to support Berlusconi as well as his attacker, including some conspiracy theories claiming that the whole attack was staged. This caused some politicians to ask for stricter regulations to prevent social media from hosting subversive activities.

On September 11 2001 a series of terrorist attacks in the US killed almost 3,000 people. Conspiracy theorists have been posting videos on YouTube as well as writing books,  and they have received responses on YouTube and in writing. I have not read anything about the US government willing to shut down social media or prosecute conspiracy theorists, although the size and relevance of the two events is not even comparable.

In my research about how governments should use technology to better engage with their citizens, I have often said that it is essential for them to reach out to existing social networks and engage in conversations, since there is little hope to control social media.

I am pretty sure that law enforcement authorities and secret services everywhere in the world do spend time infiltrating social networks that may support or point to terrorist and other illegal activities: this is their job and I would be surprised if they did not.

On the other hand, I would hope that other parts of government would engage with social networks to establish or continue a dialogue, to understand what are the deep reasons why decent people express support for despicable actions, gather information about what people want and get inspiration about how to bridge that gap.

But in a country where the immediate reaction by government and some of the opposition is to put social media on a tight leash, there is little hope that the conditions for real and productive engagement will ever be established.

Once again, old Europe should learn what democracy means from our overseas friends and distant relatives: the first amendment may turn to be the most critical success factor for open government and government 2.0.

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Category: web-20-in-government  

Tags: europe  us  

Andrea Di Maio
Managing VP
19 years at Gartner
33 years IT industry

Andrea Di Maio is a managing vice president for public sector in Gartner Research, covering government and education. His personal research focus is on digital government strategies, open government, the business value of IT, smart cities, and the impact of technology on the future of government Read Full Bio

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  3. IMHO the difference lies less in politics or govermental attitude and more in the different role still played by the Web/Internet in the US and the Italian culture.

    In mainstream Italian sentiment and culture, a substantial separation is felt between the online and the brick-and-mortar worlds (the latter is often referred to as “real”, as if the Web wasn’t real too!).

    In the US, most people (politicians included of course) are used to think of Web phenomena as mere reflections of society per se, not as “another world’s”.

  4. P.S.: That said, I’m nearly sure that similar censorial proposals were made in the US in 2001-2002..

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