Facebook vs. Berlusconi: Online Social Networks, grassroots movements and democracy in Italy
On 5th December 2009, hundreds of thousands of Italian citizens took to the streets of Rome to say ‘no’ to the policies of Silvio Berlusconi’s government and to demand his resignation as prime minister. The demonstration was planned and organised mainly on Facebook by a group of bloggers. On the same day, organised by Italians living abroad, other demonstrations took place in London, Berlin, Madrid, New York, Paris and Sydney, to name but a few. A single-issue protest rapidly evolved into a social movement, called ‘popolo viola’, or ‘purple people’. The colour purple was chosen because it had not previously been associated with any political movement, as a word to the wise that the movement was not linked to any political party. New groups and pages appeared on Facebook: apart from the page ‘popolo viola’, counting more than 430,000 members (data July 2011), thousands of pages and groups appeared at local level, inside and outside Italy. Through a case study focusing on popolo viola, this research project intends to assess the correlation between the use of Facebook and the development of Social Movements Organisations throughout their life cycle. Moreover, the impact of the use of Facebook on organisational processes and movements’ structure will be evaluated. The methodology adopted for this purpose comprises a triangulation of both quantitative and qualitative methods: on the one hand, a trend analysis of membership and interaction level on the popolo viola Facebook page, and a survey; on the other hand, in-depth interviews with the most active members of the movement, and a content analysis of the online conversation among activists. The hypothesis is that while, from one standpoint, Facebook proved to be a formidable mobilising structure for social movements, its own structure failed to provide movements with a shared management of the resources provided by the popular social network site. The lack of opportunity to manage Facebook pages and groups according to commonly agreed values not only led to controversial management of the Facebook page of popolo viola, but even led to internal divisions that hindered the potential of the movement. I hope that the key contributions of this project will be a cross-disciplinary literature review and a novel ethnographic study, both of which will come together to form a new, theoretically and empirically grounded understanding of how social movements are developing in the age of convergence.