icm2re logo. icm2:re (I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything) is an ongoing web column by Brunella Longo

This column deals with some aspects of change management processes experienced almost in any industry impacted by the digital revolution: how to select, create, gather, manage, interpret, share data and information either because of internal and usually incremental scope - such learning, educational and re-engineering processes - or because of external forces, like mergers and acquisitions, restructuring goals, new regulations or disruptive technologies.

The title - I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything - is a tribute to authors and scientists from different disciplinary fields that have illuminated my understanding of intentional change and decision making processes during the last thirty years, explaining how we think - or how we think about the way we think. The logo is a bit of a divertissement, from the latin divertere that means turn in separate ways.

Chronological Index | Subject Index

Tony, the global repentant of copyright

About the perils of commitment in an open society

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2016). Tony, the repentant of copyright. About the perils of commitment in an open society. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Print)], 5.10 (October).

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2016). Tony, the repentant of copyright. About the perils of commitment in an open society. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Online)], 5.10 (October).

To Tony Muzi Falconi, godfather of the Global Alliance for public relations and communications management, that may be fed up of not getting a penny from all those groupware shared platforms plenty of notes, insights, empirical evidence, domain and expert knowledge etcetera.

London, 27 February 2017 - Commitment can be defined in various ways. It can be seen as dependency, as vocation or fulfilment. The definition I like mostly was given by social psychologists Kiesler and Sakumura in 1966 when they wrote it consists of the pledging or binding of an individual to behavioural acts. This definition reminds me Bruno Latour's action network theory where commitment can be considered, in fact, as the often undefined glue among individuals. And the word glue, in a game of literary consonance that may have deeper fascinating meanings, reminds me of an old italian acquaintance that it would not be pretentious to define as the living Godfather of the 20th Century public relations industry, Tony Muzi Falconi: Tony self-published his Biased memoirs of a global public relator as an e-book in 2014 under the title Glow worms. But let's stick to the preamble about the notion of commitment before returning to the main anecdotal evidence I use in this article that is indeed offered by Tony's life and works.

Kiesler and Sakumura put implicit emphasis on one’s own access, awareness, understanding or control of his or her own actions but at the same time helped to see and draw a healthy line between the influence of character or personality traits and behavioural acts. They are not the same. From other views, and particularly when considering issues of corruption within international organisations and charities, commitment is seen as a lever either because it creates contagion and cohesion for stakeholders management purposes or because it is a form of emotional or ideological attachment to certain social practices, beliefs and political programmes that turn very useful for advertising, common causes or viral campaigns.

In this article I look into the polyhedric notion of commitment considering what has been pointed by Kiesler as an antecedent of behavioural commitment: that is the publicness of one’s personal data, family history, sentiments, personal timeline and so on through social media and the wide - virtually, the totality - of public databases accessible through the internet that are exposed to unprecedented risks of hacking and commoditisation. I will not focus on the current debate on legal and ethical implications of privacy, though, that go beyond my expertise but for the aspects of information management and policies. Instead, I will try to limit my observations from an indterdisciplinary point of view to the technicalities of commitment in digital environments. Here software routines or algorithms can (should they?) ensure the change we need to achieve certain goals - that is what governance of relationships is all about. My opinion is that both technologies and standards on one side and the rule of law on the other should protect and safeguard personal information from public as well as private scrutiny and unfair use, no matter how accessible or shared personal data can be in an open society.

The information society, Tony and I

I would rather say that the example I have chosen to write about the subject of committment in an open digital society consists of the story of Toni Muzi Falconi’s dedication to professionalism in lobbyism and public relations. But I must admit that my own commitment for information and knowledge management or, as I would prefer to say these days, for data engineering, has been much more less visible but not substantially inferior - so that the essence of the story is possibly in the mostly inedited, undocumented and virtually non existent relationship between the two of us. Two living, caring, inspiring and pioneering italians catapulted on a global scene, belonging to the first two generations (he could be my father) of professionals impacted by the new world information order, as they were used to call the information society in the 1960s and 1970s. We were positioned in opposite segments (or corners) of the industry until the Internet made the whole of the information and communications technologies and services collapsing into one single big global bowl, with more and more blurring lines between the traditional five sectors of the knowledge industry as defined by Fritz Machlup in the 1960s.

We could even remain totally unknown to each other if we had not had the chance to work, at different times and in different roles, he mainly in the 1980s and I between 1990 and 1995, for the italian media mogul, then major politician, Silvio Berlusconi. When the last started his political party (Forza Italia) I was still reluctantly employed in his headquarter, responding to a diabolic and powerful couple (Paolo Del Debbio and Gina Nieri), pondering to start my own first internet agency: one of my main duties was to prepare quick desk research reports and written answers to very heterogeneous business and technical questions asked by members of the board and directors (I will write more about my very pivotal learning about change management in this role in other occasions). Tony's name came to my attention possibly for the very first time when Fedele Confalonieri, who was at the time best friend and President of Berlusconi's media conglomerate, asked me to provide a quick "medaglione" about him. That was, in journalistic terms, the request for a personal profile or biography written using only sources available in the public domain - in my function and role of documentalist I would not have access not I would try to use personal information sources in any case.

It is not at all relevant here nor I can remember at all what I wrote (if I could, I think it would not be unfair to disclose the content of the "medaglione" after so many years) but I remember it was not so evident that Tony had worked for Berlusconi in the 1980s, helping him in a complex transition from the constructions industry to the media sector, where he built from scratch in few years a commercial television network that was substantially illegal until the early 1990s, and counting on the friendship of the socialists and other liberals and reformists. Articles about Tony in the press were mostly focussing on his entrepreneurial verve, his constant commitment for the recognition of the professionalism of public relators, his relationships with the socialists - that he subsequently succeeded in watering down and re-framing, well away from very notorious cases of conviction for bribery. I do not remember any reference to his family of UK and Italian diplomats of alleged noble descent he talks about in his memoirs (to his parents' influence, a liberal Anglo-Irish mother and a caricatural father who happened to be, among other roles, the Italian Consul in Etiopia during the Fascist occupation of the Country in 1936-1941, he seems to ascribe any responsibility for his extraordinary understanding of all sorts of people circumstances, appropriateness of behaviours as well as for the indecent or pretty much fascist ideas he was able to put forward with great nonchalance throughout his career).

With a vague recollection of my medaglione I was therefore very much surprised to learn from his Biased memoirs that he claimed to have designed and promoted an engineered and systematic collection of personal details at the heart of what was called the "service culture" embedded in Berlusconi's successful transformation from a building financier and speculator to a media mogul and then well beyond that, into the global political arena.

Berlusconi himself, according to Muzi reconstruction of those pioneering years, was so intimately proud of having acquired and developed a "service culture" and spread it across his personal organisational and institutional networks that he ended up claiming it as his own creature. That, considered the relaxed atmosphere of the group in respect of copyright agreements sounds more credible (I negotiated for years contractual terms with vendors and publishers of copyrighted works, but in spite of such convenient agreements, there were always issues with some users that simply would not understand the point of having such contractual frameworks in place. Why? what was the point of not minding one’s own priorities and businesses for the sake of deliberately infringing contractual agreements and corporate policies? Cultural differences, they would say!). But let's listen to Tony's words on this specific point, as nobody could describe it better:

"Throughout his political career Berlusconi implemented with amazing effectiveness what he himself had recently (2009) referred to as a ‘cucu model’ of public relations. It is a model based on a highly sophisticated and planned network of relationship systems (joyous and candid, yet often sordid) stemming from a structurally populist culture of direct democracy that, in many instances, anticipated dynamics and trends that today are common to political leaderships in many Western and East European countries. The expression of ‘cucu’ in fact originates only in November 2008 when, at an Italo-German summit in Trieste, Berlusconi surprises German chancellor Merkel by peekabooing her and jumping from behind a monument under the eyes of major international TV networks".

Was that "service culture" model engineered within Berlusconi's group of companies during the 1980s through the systematic collection, storage, aggregation of personal and economic data, as Muzi seems to infere and allege throughout his biaised memoirs? And if so, how did it happen that I never had the chance to know anything about such presumably huge data collection, in spite of being the Head of the Corporate Documentation and Information Centre between 1990 and 1995, with a finger in almost any dataset or IT service existing within the whole of the group of companies? Are Tony's biaised memoirs biaised up to the point that he fabricated a micro-history of those years?

Suddenly, I realised that this was the same question many others might have feared for years, imagining the existence of secret files and storage of documents about sordid affairs. Instead, if any collection had ever existed, or inferred on demand, I am afraid that was actually immaterially, safely and powerfully held in person to person contacts and in between the lines annotations of very public documents. I recognised a number of totally fabricated particulars in Tony's book - he is a master of sophisticated alterations of chronologies and timelines that have precise functions, for instance to obfuscate causal relationships or to fabricate legal precedents.

At any rate, being the historical truth about the notion and the tools of the "service culture" totally out of scope here, what I decided to do while reading Tony's Glow worms was to just trust the version of the facts he describes or mentions in his book. We live post-truth times after all: what a pity he had not copyrighted his design!

The alleged archives of the service culture

Muzi's innovation might have been technically very similar to database structured for R&D, bibliographic or factual collections that became common in the mid 1980s, together with personal computers and wide or local area networks, at least within large corporations and government offices. It might have started just because of the simple idea of using computers in support of convivial and administrative activities.

The concept of engineered earned media externalities was completely further down the line in the 1980s and 1990s. However, there was a general intuition in the sector that the role of individuals and relationships for the viral spreading of emotional messages, coupled with new ICT, would be of great advantage for the future of promotional and political communications. I myself had to reluctanctly come to such a conclusion in spite of my own efforts to affirm the potential benefits of widespread access to databases for education, lifelong learning and information services (in particular, with a little book entitled Banca Dati I wrote and published upon commission of the Association of Italian Libraries in 1993).
Such insight was transpiring from a wide range of signals and market trends and innovations, from the blastering success of home video outlets to the quick establishment of conferences and events as a new communication channel for brands. Earned media or earned exposure has been recently defined by the Oxford Dictionary of Social Media (Chandler and Munday, 2016) as "free publicity distributed by third parties, as in press coverage and word-of-mouth marketing, generating greater visibility for a brand, product, or service. In social media this includes likes, mentions, shares, reposts, recommendations, and reviews. It is typically stimulated by public- and media-relations efforts (e.g. content creation, content sharing, paid influencers) but carries more credibility than paid media or owned media)." Twenty-five years ago it was almost inconceivable and unacceptable that influencing public relations as well as information or research and development work would be carried out for free, as by-products of freedom of expression along the new "information superhighways".

However, it was irresistible not to experiment and try new communications channels like internet bulletin boards or mailing lists and forum or not to play around with websites that were actually extended versions of classified ads.

The same type of early fascination for the possible role of connected and networked individuals in a global, big media picture was pervading the research and knowledge management community - that in a certain sense has always been the other side of the coin or the twin brother of ICT applications into the public relations, publicity and marketing realms.

A definitive answer to the question if it is possible to extract reliable information from user generated contents and other unstructured, large repositories of eterogeneous data using natural language processing still has to be found. And yet, as far as I can remember, in the 1980s and early 1990s, marketing and communications directors and politicians were eager for databases with personal information and details of transactions that could be stored, analysed, discussed and then retrieved or processed at a later time even if such collections would be evidently messy, chaotic, full of decontextualised information and with plenty of possible not pertinent and misguiding interpolations.

Technology was, as it still is today, trusted up to the point of solving any inconguence or interpretation issue by inferential information retrieval. Thas was in the 1990s mostly common sense because the scale of all the experiments and projects was quite small, with a precise perimeter defined by disciplinary, industry or market segment boundaries. A totally different matter is today, when the scale and the pace of the applications make impossible for human beings to oversee the sense-making exercise.

Early attempts to enhance or augment bibliographic and factual database records with unstructured annotations or free-text abstracts that could be indexed and then retrieved just searching simple keywords and phrases were made by a number of library and information professionals in corporate environments and in academia, including myself (while I was working as an information officer at J. Walter Thompson Italy, before joining Berlusconi's Fininvest, I designed a database and an internal publication of abstracts meant for what was called at the time "selective dissemination of information" or early warnings about social and consumer trends that I significantly entitled Fragments).

In sum, Muzi was not alone in pushing forward new innovative ways to deal with data about personal and commercial relationships. But his ingenuity and diabolic intuition that such repositories could be exploited for public relations purposes in systematic ways were surely unique at the time. His talent for anchoring descriptions of people characters with few words was unrivalled. Had he patented in some ways his design, could he perhaps be enjoyinging these days a healthier and wealthier retirement?

Databasing, civic hacking and the construction of scandal machines

In 2013 the french journal Reseaux published an interesting article on the "scandal machines" and the possibility of establishing a "moral sociology of databases". The authors were supported by the French National Research Agency and the Ministry of Culture and Communication. They divulged data collected in France and in the USA. The title of the article was possibly forward looking, suggesting policy and governance implications, whilst the field investigation in itself was focussed on the open source movement and the ideology of civic hacking behind it. (1)

A very timely piece of research, rooted in a well established tradition of socio-technique approaches to digital innovations, media and communications studies, the article summed up much of the reflections on the need for governance of digital relationships and contents that Muzi and I, from opposite corners of the communications spectrum, have in many ways pioneered - particularly between 2001 and 2003, when I managed to start a mailing list about e-learning services and to introduce social network analysis concepts and tools among HR and training specialists. In a matter of few months time, Tony started talking and writing about governance of relationships: once again, what a surprising temporal coincidence of subjects considered from opposite viewpoints!

Thinking about what can reveal realites that would stay otherwise unknowns and be virtually non existent in the public domain, social scientists have then followed both of us and noticed what classificationists, archivists and scholars familiar with the history of the Inquisition have been well aware of for centuries too: some categories of information become visible only through the analysis or consideration of the design and the structure of the data collections.

The databases can therefore constitute, per se, a trasgression within a certain regime. The control, management and supervision of information collected and distributed by way of simply naming, sorting or indexing it create power. With Parasie's words "as most projects often combine data from several sources, actors are constanstly confronted with organisational and coding methods based on a host of conventions that are out of their control, yet imposed on them."

The Reseaux article did not mention at all the fabrication of fake news and did not look at the issue from a particular political science point of view or business, media and engineering angle. Conversely, it pointed a finger towards the pure and simple operational aspects of building up databases that contain aggregated atoms of potentially forthcoming scandals and public indignation phenomena: facts, figures, citations, places, times, events, names, and innumerable other possible categories of data and information can be made ready available and sought, sifted, uploaded, downloaded, connected, animated, shared and acted upon by journalists, scientists, laywers, archivists, politicians, whistleblowers, activists and others.

Not only "a large number of actors and independent organisations are exploiting this resource to manifacture indignations": databases are used to generate and produce opinions (via Twitter hashtags, or with Facebook trolls conversations, for instance) in ways that cannot be clearly imputable or traced back to anybody, and as such fit very well within scenarios in which an increasing number of actors, from the corporate world to the grey economy to the dark net, do their businesses disengaging from any risk of social and moral responsibility.

Without the existence of these web repositories and databases a number of recent popular, international and national, scandals - e.g. Wikileaks - could not have taken place.

Who comes to management of information from a background in the humanities or with a formal informatics education will not see in these reflections anything new. The history of printed books and the history of the press - very well before the elaboration of modern mass media theories - is full of evidence about the fact that the formats in which data are recorded and made accessible have enormous political and policy impact on ordinary lives and yet stay terrifically out of sight. They are at the core of the tensions between and beneath two forces: mainstream political controls on one side and civic, liberal demands for freedom of information access on the other.

What is possibly new in our Century, besides the scale of the data collections, is the belief that there are economic gains associated with the design of databases and these can be democratised. Popular sovereignity is something that can be ascertained only in retrospect so that I suspend any judgement on the idea but to remind that, so far, we have seen the unravelling of the opposite paradigm though, with big digital moguls becoming wealthier and wealthier while micro businesses, individual consultants, middle class professionals are increasingly falling into poverty and victimisation.

Concerns about the risks of automation into the domain of perceptions and public knowledge have been expressed by social scientists and communication experts since the early developments of electronic databases in the 1960s. But from the late 1970s and the early 1980s on, most part of the STEM professional elites has chosen not to listen to such warnings, finding the idea of an engineered global "naked society" exciting and promising after all. Who wouldn't agree with the idea that machines can save lives, by way of eliminating biased or poor human decisions? Well... Tony and I!

In fact, Tony has theorised and demonstrated in innumerable circumstances his idea (perhaps copied from the Vatican and the history of the Colosseo?) that the contrary is true because "consolidated, repeated and structural delays" can actually be introduced and infiltrate data collections, causing "deteriorated quality of decisions". Conversely, I believe that biased decisions cannot be eliminated at all, but we can reduce their impact and adverse consequences thanks to critical thinking, assurance of processes and constant reviews.

I had too my moments of intense fascination for the possibilities of inferential relational information retrieval. I tried to proceduralise how to extract data from unstructured fulltext databases with predictable costs and outcomes so that I could teach and train other colleagues how to obtain effective and efficient results. But it was for me, in the 1990s as it is now, unthinkable to use ICT technologies to build up and manage secret scandal machines, or to fabricate indignation and manipulate people behaviours.

Indeed, if anybody had ever asked me to explicitly design and engineer a system that could be used to produce "data weapons", I would have refused.

In truth (or post-truth), I do not believe that Tony completely lies when he says that at the turn of the "discesa in campo" (2) he was called by Confalonieri and told that Berlusconi and his new Political Party were going to use everything they had learnt from him about the "service culture" against their antagonists and so also against him, who had in the meantime partnered with the Communist Party and more decisive left circles than his former fabian friends, mostly under criminal investigation or prosecution. It is not a lie, it is possibly just a very elegant way to say sorry to the friends he actually never had.

The legal side: if nothing is secret

Beside the intellectual property issue, another related question arises looking at the cuckoo model with ethical and legal lenses: could Tony be ever made accountable for any damages caused to a number of individuals negatively affected by direct or indirect consequences of personal data collected, plausibly distorted or fabricated and used for "sordid" public relations purposes and made available to private or public scrutiny?

There is no liability clearly arising from misuse of personal data in the public sphere, besides offenses such as extreme pornography, paedophiles cases and very rare cases of defamation. Also the circumstances in which Privacy authorities intervene, enforcing or sanctioning data privacy legislation, are extremely limited compared with the range of violations, machinations and abuses. On the contrary, there are large spaces in mainstream media as well as innumerable receptive niches in the social media streams, on a global basis, that allow the seeding and installment of shame strategies, often masquerade with religious, political or ethical justifications, and persistent distorsion of user generated contents for commercial or lobbying purposes.

However, it seems out of doubt that, much more diffusely than twenty or thirty years ago, there are also growing expectations of ethical and social responsibilities in respect of data systems that may support abuses and inequalities and have consequences on people lives, even unintentionally. Tony himself sligthly apologised in the introduction of his biased memories, published and spread all around the internet world in 2014, when he wrote the book had two main purposes: " a) In exercising my memory, I will hopefully succeed in delaying senile dementia (I am now 74 years old); b) At least in part, it is possible that this effort might be of some support and assistance to others (of course, this is, in itself, a self-gratifying thought)."

There are now a number of international initiatives aimed at understanding better and finding ways to protect people privacy rights in the digital age that could or should help us modeling governance of relationships. And yet, as soon as we wear those legal glasses, the entire matter disappears... in vapours.

People committments tend to disclose and expose more personal data than we usually imagine or are conscious about, so that the only practical way to prevent misuse and abuses seems leveraging on the ideas of forgetfulness, change management and decommitments (and decommissioning) as practical measure to fight what I called the danger of fixity of data and metadata (see icm2re 5.8, Is this your moment?).

Are policy makers, politicians and practitioners eventually facing and understanding the possible legal complexities of what Michel Foucault called in 1979 "a state of conscious and permanent visibility [that] assures the automatic functioning of power" that nobody has actually designed, disclosed or endorsed at Government level?

It is still very true for many that a man without privacy is a man without dignity but ten and more years of successful and popular intrusive media formats (in the root of the Big Brother model of engagement with TV audiences) and social media disclosures, hacking and leakages have deeply changed the perception of what is admissable, acceptable, discussed or just discarded and ignored in the 24/7 flow of fabricated, broadcasted, echoed flow of digital contents. At the end of the day, most of human life and activities depends on some degrees of inertia: if somebody finds a way to recycle the debris of our browsing and blubbing activities online to make a living, while we are busy doing something else more important to us, or after we clicked "OK" on a link to 63 pages of small print consensual agreement to give up our data in a state of rushing trance, who are we to prohibit such developments?

Twisting and turning personal information, manipulating or sharing details of people words and acts out of a certain context are increasingly perceived as behaviours that can create a marketing or commercial edge, not a violation of privacy, and yet some of such operations are increasingly understood and perceived by the public as unacceptable and not admissable, independently from the fact that there is a scarcity of reliable methods to prevent and sanction them.

I personally will never consent to use my data in ways that create a profit for others and not for myself or in ways that diminish my dignity, my reputation, my prospects of success. I am disgusted by people and businesses that do design data systems ignoring human rights and I believe the future will not tolerate such conduct. And yet I have come to recognise that my commitment in defence of data privacy and data ownership has been unsuccessul in many battles so far. On top of that, it has been exploited by my adversarial colleagues against me: it is not with prohibition of use of personal data that we will win such war.

The law has developed very slowly in this direction with data protection legislation. There is an increased sensitiveness as well among marketers, lobbyists, media and policy makers. But we see only very shy admissions that a change of paradigm is needed.

As Lord Neuberger, the President of the UK Supreme Court, has recently emphasised in a speech on the subject, the right to privacy - established by article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights - still has to be fully recognised and implemented in the law of many Countries: the same attempts to protect it through legislative measures are for now extremely patchy and often inconsistent, especially when one compares different jurisdictions. That translates in the almost impossibility for a single individual to claim and obtain compensation because of damages caused from the misuse of his or her personal information.

At least what seems gathering consensus internationally is the principle that even Government surveillance upon individuals must be regulated, proportionate, carried out with a legitimate aim, in accordance with the law and with some degree of assurance that the data collected about an individual for policing or national security reasons - no matter how effectively - are then disposed of (erased) once there is no further scope to process them. Once this principle is robustly planted and implemented in national and international law, it should be fast to translate it in consumer and contract law for the corporate and the commercial sectors too.

Then another problem arises, and it is all about data ownership and responsibility.

The Snowden scandal in the USA and the consequent legal process have dramatically pulled out the curtains in 2015 on the disturbing reality of the operations carried out allegedly for mass surveillance. The leakages in the public domain have consequences in terms of governance of relationships and huge social and emotional impact on the individuals involved, their families and their circles of relatives and friends. But who has actually decided the leakages? At what point of a data management supply chain we are able to identify data ownerships and responsibility, if any?

Similar legal cases in the UK involving GCHQ have pointed out how relatively easy is to fall into situations of abuse of legal privileges, almost with nobody being neither aware nor responsible, while collecting, sharing and retaining personal information well beyond the original purpose of the collection. Things move on, data are often left behind and stay. Fixity, again.

With Lord Neuberger's words that summarise the state of the problem quite precisely (the puntuaction and extracts here are mine though) we can say that:

  1. "it is relatively easy to correlate various items of data from different sources, with the assistance of ever more sophisticated algorithms and data analysis. As a result, individual pieces of information, seemingly innocuous in themselves, can be 'jigsawed' so as to give a lot more information about us than many of us would be comfortable about";
  2. "there is a big question mark over the question whether most of the vast amount of personal information on the internet is secure from purely criminal assault. Electronic records are at risk of intrusion on a massive, rapid and sometimes undetectable scale, with electronic malware, which can wipe, falsify or steal private and sensitive information with extraordinary thoroughness across a range of networks";
  3. "The European experience suggests that there is a gap between the regulatory aims and the outcomes. The European Commission recognised more than ten years ago that the data explosion inevitably raises the question whether legislation can cope with challenges to privacy rights thrown up by the internet. Subsequent reports cast doubt on the effectiveness of enforcement of the 1995 data privacy directive in Europe, and suggest that European data protection agencies are under-resourced, and that compliance with the rules by data controllers is patchy. And if that is the position inside the EU, probably the most regulated part of the world, what hope is there elsewhere?"

Well, if the President of the Supreme Court accepts that there is a point in the evolution of human activities and technologies in which correctness become pedantic obstinacy my conclusion is that we need to review the notion of commitment and see how to educate people around its consequences in the digital economy.

I succeeded and failed in an early attempt in this direction with my own training agency in Italy in the late 1990s: that was for sure a quite naive educational programme, missing the necessary political endorsement to survive an exciting early adopters stage, as I wrote in my 2011 censored paper The missing business case: rise and fall of an information literacy training programme (3).

I have to acknowledge that Muzi followed me and echoed my preoccupations once again from an opposite corner when in 2012 he tenderly mocked my little drama of censored author on the international scene, telling the story of the Rise and fall of Berlusconi's cuckoo model of public relations: 1992-2012 to a global gathering of public relators traditionally held at Bournemouth University.

In sum, if we had in place another legal framework for intellectual property and copyright, perhaps Tony could have been licenced over the years to use my courses, my training materials and my publications with his own global audiences and make a success of his little italian pantomimes on the global PR scene!

Both our businesses, so diverse and adversarial at times, could have flourished - even in absence of any political sponsorship.


Wherever we go, whatever we do in a digital environment we all leave fingerprints and traces, mostly insignificant. Software routines and all sorts of agencies could claim they know us better than ourselves, since our attitudes or tastes, views or sentiments are all there, splatted on colourful digital dashboards, ready to be dragged and dropped into the most plausible stories, fakes news and chronologies: the publicness of one’s personal data makes commitment at risk of constant hacking. Whatever professional endeavour or public manifestation of personal opinions and tracked consumer choices risk to be commoditised and be considered eternally unfinished, for the sake of perpetual memes, constant discrimination, repeated mockeries. Such state of violated privacy leaves annoying and costly debris in one's public image, businesses, relationships and wellbeing.

The more personal data are in the public domain, the more contents can be exploited to influence the reputation of an individual's dedication to whatever cause, career or campaign. This in turn accelerates dilapidation trends.

The external pressures to engage with digital artefacts (from institutions, businesses, friends, relatives... you name it) bring a sort of tragedy of the commons phenomenon into the organisation and the daily routines of single families, microbusinesses and individuals, leading them to volatile profits and eventually to zero margins performances.

It becomes challenging and demanding for micro businesses and individuals to cope with and to contrast such trends: bouncing back from a zero margins economy is a titanic endeavour.

Trivialisation strategies have been employed at first by creative entrepreneurs, management consultants and lobbyists even innocently - as pioneer Toni Muzi Falconi has done since the 1980s in a culture of social entertainment and invasion of privacy that has been recently captured by Paolo Sorrentino's Oscar winner film La grande bellezza - and then intensively in the last two decades used by armies of very well organised networks of public relators, political lobbyists, advertising and marketing experts empowered by technologies and social media.

It did not come as a surprise that after years of tactical exploitation of circles of committed volunteers - mainly recruited among Irish catholics - for the fat of his own financial wealth, Sir Martin Sorrell has eventually admitted that WPP would be in trouble if social media engagements were regulated and there were more legal barriers in place against inferential information retrieval and an intrusive model of programmatic advertising that profit from the availability of databases of personal data: at a certain point he publicly stated that people should be obliged to accept ads on their phones even if they do not want to see those ads and even if the law requires to ask people consent on such content management choices.

Sir Martin Sorrell's position on data privacy is in some ways the long term unintended consequence of a scandal machine approach to databasing for which we have entered a new level of intrusive, "panopticon", large scale applications and technical developments absolutely unprepared.

And yet, a solution to the socio-economic problems the scandal and indignation machines generate in every area of human activity - from education to trade, from industry to government policies - seems long way off as it demands an interdisciplinary, integrated approach to our data few practitioners' families are prepared to deal with: the same legal professionals are more and more often keen to accept that a huge, tectonic rethinking of our ideas of privacy is needed, well beyond what is practically achievable with data protection legislation.

Diminishing or delaying the urgency, or the importance and the relevance of something - learning and thinking, wages, eating, exercising, going out - is an extraordinary shortcut to trivialise and either ridicule or disable the possibility and the perceived need of change (in attitudes, opinions, consumer and political choices, learning and relational behaviours).

I believe such communication tactics are ill-fated and in the medium and long term they will not prevail: people learning curves will get up speed, realising the panopticon risks are serious, and not just literature or philosophy, and not so entertaining after all.

People will understand that protecting the disclosure and exploitation in the public sphere of what makes you tick in any field is an integral part of the human right to have a life, because life is in the weakenesses not less than in the strength of human identity.

The more a target becomes out of reach, the less credible it becomes, making easier for people to fall into that panopticon state in which every word and every act are exposed to analysis, construction and reconstruction into more and more manipulative and persuasive narratives about ourselves: we may keep on following aspirations, desires and routines according to a completely predictable and improductive agenda, for the sake of an idea of psychological wellbeing designed around concepts of wholeness that are totally nonsense and increasingly domain of pseudoscience, superstitions, religious beliefs, stigmas.

As a Helga Nowotny, a European social scientist, has recently put it in a speech with the suggestive title Stumbling into an artificial future, we have reached the capability of transforming nature and ourselves: perhaps, we have to move away from the holistic gestalt that many of us associate with wholeness and start to think of relationships.

Committment has a very critical role in this new global economy of relationships: what we are supposed to live for can actually put the entirety of our life at risk of being commoditised, for the sake of others' interests. Whatever it consists of, we should all be prepared to either copyright it or give it up.


(1) Parasie, S. Scandal Machines. Towards a Moral Sociology of Databases, Réseaux, 2013/2 No 178-179, p. 127 - 161.
(2) "Discesa in campo" was the expression mutuated from football language that rapidly become mainstream after the Berlusconi's decision to start his political party in 1993. That decision reunited and then refractured italian society after the collapse of the main political parties hit by a major corruption scandal in the early 1990s and generated new long lasting, deep sysmic divisions.
(3) The missing business case: rise and fall of an information literacy training programme was commissioned by an international American journal edited by a British academic and then ludicrously and openly censored, with another italian author given the green light for publication at the very last minute. I am deeply sorry that such humiliating and very regrettable Italian pantomime has taken over other professional standards.