Italian party uses Internet to select parliamentary candidates

Critics say the process was nevertheless controlled by top officials

By Philip Willan, IDG News Service |  IT Management

At the general election expected next February Grillo's forces will find themselves pitted against Silvio Berlusconi, the 76-year-old media magnate who announced his return to politics over the weekend and who has three of his own TV channels, newspapers and magazines at his disposal for political propaganda.

The contest will provide an interesting measure of the influence of new social media on political competition, with Grillo's movement relying almost entirely on the Internet, and a medium such as Twitter making itself felt for the first time in Italy; a trending topic following Berlusconi's announcement was #Iwon'tvoteforhim.

Casaleggio, whose company Casaleggio Associates produces Grillo's blog and organized the online candidate selection, was reportedly the only senior political activist to take advantage of the offer of a meeting last week with Michael Slaby, the chief integration and innovation officer for U.S. President Barack Obama's 2012 campaign and the tech mastermind behind Obama's 2008 victory.

The Italian communications guru, who has even more hair than Grillo, discussed political marketing with the man who masterminded President Obama's new media re-election campaign. The two met at a hotel in Milan, where Slaby was on a private visit to address a university class of journalism students, La Stampa newspaper reported.

The American expert was reportedly impressed by Casaleggio's account of the 5-Star Movement's online activities, while warning Italian audiences of the danger of excluding large numbers of people still cut off from online political discourse by the digital divide.

"It's an absolutely new phenomenon," Slaby was quoted as saying of Grillo's online organization. "We'll just have to wait and see how people respond."

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