Punto Zero - Laboratory on critical innovation

Status: 
concluded
Period: 
October 2017 - May 2018
Funding: 
in-kind
Funding organization: 

N/A

Person(s) in charge: 

Juan Carlos De Martin (coordinator), Antonio Santangelo (researcher), Fabio Chiusi (researcher)

Executive summary: 

The “Persuasori social” (Social persuaders) research project, conducted with Centro per la Riforma dello Stato (CRS) and Fondazione P&R, has involved some of the main stakeholders in this field – politicians, communication agencies, public authorities, journalists, Google and Facebook themselves, etc. – and it has produced a set of practical recommendations on how to regulate political communication on the Internet in the period of elections, to be presented to the members of the Italian Parliament.

Background: 

Punto Zero is a participatory lab on critical innovation which has seen the light this year. It consists of a research, analysis, formation, confrontation and elaboration path dedicated to the main actors of those digital innovation processes that may lead to critical social consequences. It aims at focusing on the advantages and disadvantages of these innovations, to better understand how to develop them.
Because of the concerns emerged during the last American and European elections about the spread of fake news, the interference of foreign nations in the formation of public opinion, the obscure usage of micro-targeting and dark ads to pollute the public sphere and to influence the vote, the first edition of Punto Zero has concentrated on the role of digital platforms in political electoral campaigns.

Objectives: 

“Persuasori social” has aimed at studying the advantages, but also the threats, of the most controversial issues about political communication through digital platforms.
Among such issues, we mention: (i) the obscure usage of micro-targeting and dark ads to send personalized and uncontrolled – often fake news – messages to specific audiences via social media: (ii) the usage of bots and other means by foreign nations to interfere with the public debate of other nations and directly favour some candidates or parties (iii) the formation, due to the functioning of digital platforms, of eco chambers and filter bubbles that radicalize people; (iv) the necessity of extending to the Internet the rules that regulate communication and surveys on the other media.
The results of this research have been presented to some of the main stakeholders of political communication on digital platforms, to involve them in a set of face to face interviews and then in a collective discussion that has led to the writing of some recommendations on how to regulate this field, without restricting the expression freedom.

Results: 

The main results of “Persuasori social” are summarized in a document which is divided in three parts: (i) a report on the state of the art of political communication through digital platforms and on the academic studies about its influence on the democratic sphere, (ii) a report on the point of view of the stakeholders involved in the interviews and in the collective discussion mentioned above, (iii) a set of recommendations divided in five topics: personalized political advertising, foreign interference in the public debate, ideological bubbles, political bots, rules that are valid for the other media and that can be applied to the Internet.
These recommendations are further divided into three sections: what to do, what to avoid, tricky problems that need more reflection. The principles that emerge from this research are that, even if it is difficult to ascertain the influence of political communication through digital platforms on the elections, it is important to consider political information as something different from any other commercial content, something that must be transparent in its way of reaching citizens and that must be treated in a way that grants pluralism.