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TEDxLakeComo -- Luca De Biase - The quality in Internet

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Yes, I'm a journalist. And I declare myself "not guilty", although suspected. I'm also an Italian citizen, and I'd like to know what the facts are. Plus, as they said, I love TED. I'm all for TED, for Media Lab, for all those many (or too few) places where information, inspiration, examples from extraordinary people, all come together. And there are organizers, like those who worked on TEDxLakeComo, with a taste for these things. And then there's the most important thing: an audience that makes you feel at home, so that it almost seems like you've known them forever. As an Italian citizen, this is definitely not my usual experience. Indeed, I have to tell, I'd like to know what the facts are, but I absolutely don't know how other people think they'll discover those facts. As a journalist, my job is to tell you what's going on: the mud in Genua, the mud of financial markets, the mud of all those stories we've been telling each other for years, stories that are linked with the ongoing facts, and much more with how we see and think about them. To put these three identities together, which we all are living, I have three questions and an answer. These three questions come from a series of facts that happened to me in a recent, extraordinary moment of my life. I was invited to talk at Media Lab, the MIT's think tank in Cambridge, MA. They asked to share my experience in a research about new media: I did, and students, professors, PhDs, all were happy, listened to me, posed questions. Then, once it was all over, one by one, they all came along and asked more or less the same question: why Italians don't rebel? (long applause) For a rebellion to take place, many conditions are necessary: one of them is, you've got to know who are you going to rebel with, to achieve what, based on what diagnosis and which shared knowledge: guys at Media Lab asked me this question because they thought that, well, as we're close to Tunisia, we just might have done like them. They are not communist: they are Americans! But their approach is, when a given situation must change, you've got to do something. In our experience, to make that difference, to do something, you have to meet other people. During the last ten days, I heard about the analysis of Professor Dan Kahan, in Yale. He talks about a particularly serious social condition, not unlike Italy's current one. He calls "cognitively illiberal state", a state (of things) which is illiberal from the cognitive standpoint. How's this state like? It's a state of things where the difference in values, ideologies, ways to see and evaluate facts, among people, is so big that everytime one asks for the facts, this request is interpreted as an opinion, a position: you just cannot talk about a given fact without making other people think you're supporting an ideological viewpoint or another. Cognitively illiberal state. If we think of ourselves as a peaceful and happy democracy, we won't rebel, but if we depict our country as an illiberal, cognitively dictatorial one, then a form of protest can be set up, meeting ourselves together. Meeting ourselves together is the third issue: I feel that all we have done with social networks, the Internet, blogs, facebook, was just great: it forced us to reconsider all the media system! The journalist in me has spent these last ten years confronting with a new, extremely capable and creative subject: this active audience that has contributed to information, criticized it, spread it, made it relevant and has become an extremely important subject to deal with. But it's not clear how different social groups meet on social networks. Platforms, now, are actually supporting these fast ways to connect, gratify, acknowledge each other. And things roll out fast because it's easy to agree each other. This dynamics emerges more or less everywhere and, essentially, makes us all meet likewise people. Groups and still separated cultural islands emerge (as in the cognitively illiberal state), where cultural clichés matter, or ideological positions, activism, goals to achieve, whatever. It's not always like this, and this is not created by the Internet: it's just some practices that in this phase of Internet's development are prevailing. Of course it's not all like this: as Frieda Brioschi showed us, Wikipedia is a project where all contributors manage and produce something together. I'm talking about other platforms, like facebook or twitter, where likewise people can easily and rapidly meet. [But] we're so used to meet likewise people, that we're not aware of some striking differences in our society. The difference that has striked me the most was one (reported by Wikipedia Italy too) with data on functional illiteracy: people who can't understand a newspaper's content, when reading. They were tested on reading and comprehension abilities. And maybe they decipher what the written symbols mean, but don't understand what the whole text means. And according to a research by OCSE and ONU, 47% of Italians are functionally analphabet. No other western country scores so poorly. I don't know you, but I don't know anyone of them. My personal world spins around people who read much. People with a rich, sophisticated “media diet”, with Internet, newspapers, books, even a little tv! (Laughter) Yet almost half of us doesn't understand what's written. And.. sorry: test were performed, in Italy, on a sport newspaper (Laughter). Forty seven per cent. According to Tullio De Mauro, the figure is even higher, but he's a very hard grader: he looked at the book provided by ISTAT to those who interview Italians about their reading frequency. And he has discovered that when a person replies: “No, I read no books” the interviewer is supposed to ask back: “Not even a cookbook?” Then some of them admits: “Well, yes, sometimes I read a cookbook.” So Tullio De Mauro thinks it's even worse than that, but 47% is already enough for me. What do these observations, these conditions we're in, bring us to say? There's this great opportunity, the Internet. Great openness, great participation, great innovative energy. There's a divided landscape, in our society, so that I don't know anyone in this half of population that don't understand what they read, if they read at all. And there's a condition where ideology, the difference in values, separates us so much that the plain facts just can't be known because they're always presented as supporting a given position. Last example (but please, get furious with me): there's been a debate, in both Tuscany and Veneto, on the opportunity of giving up with this damn weather forecasts, because when they foresee a bad weather, less tourists go visit art cities. Even the weather forecast has become an opinion. That's the condition we're in! (Laughter, long applause) But the Internet is also a big opportunity. Not really because, “as it is”, works and fixes everything. The Internet is a big opportunity because it continuously feeds the chance to innovate, to add another brick to the path we're on. And remember, it's still a very short path: we didn't meet the Internet so long ago. In 1995, only 100,000 people were connected in Italy; now, in 2011, more than 50% of Italians is, according to the Censis. By the way, this is also the year when for the first time four referendum succeded despite a lousy TV coverage, and a continuous decline in newspapers' sales, discarded by most people. And all the analysts agree that 55% of those Italians who voted, acquired informations through the web. Internet is important, and can be improved. The suggestion I leave you with, in the last 3 minutes and 44 seconds, is about a foundation born in Trento, in a big district of research, that aims to add pieces of innovations to Internet with a shared method for telling what's information and what's not. This foundation is called ahref, because it's the part of the html code (the standard language for web pages) that precedes the hyperlinks. So every hyperlink starts with an ahref, even if the browser hides it to us. The foundation of links. One of the things we've done was this platform called Timu, that means “team, let's team” in Swahili, and citizens who produce the informations on all kind of media are asked to join there. It is open to organizations, foundations, companies that want to investigate something, local authorities who want to support those citizens who are investigating. But on Timu, they all agree to share a really simple method. Something like: I'll provide an accurate information, transparently declaring why am I doing these things, along with my conflicts of interest, if any. I declare I'll respect the law, and check the sources. A method that enables and promotes an open way to information, so that those who read what the other citizens have thus produced might at least know what their intentions were. The only way to make this system work is by taking spontaneously charge of such quality information. An accurate, transparent information, one that checks the sources and respects the law. But if you declare this explicitly, you take a responsibility towards the others, which in turn will assume you're willing to take this responsibility, and you end up meeting other citizens on a different level, where before debating on opinions, an arrangement is made on how facts can be discovered. I think this could help us. (Applause)

Video Details

Duration: 17 minutes and 59 seconds
Country: Italy
Language: Italian
Producer: TEDx
Director: Gerolamo Saibene
Views: 85
Posted by: tradottiinitaliano on Dec 18, 2011

Editor of Innovation at Sole 24 Ore and Nova24 (which he founded and led from October 2005 to June 2011 ( Professor of journalism and new media at various universities including Iulm in Milan and Sciences Po, Paris, Master of Public Affairs since 2007. President of the Aheref Foundation, a research center on the quality of social media since 2010 ( and, since 2011, Scientific Director of the Digital Academy, a center for the development of the digital culture (

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