A while ago I asked Italian blogger Francesca Sanzo if she was interested to meet via Skype, to exchange ideas. The result was, if I may say so, interesting in a much more general way than I had imagined. For clarity, I’ve reformatted and synthesized our talks in two parts: the first presents Francesca’s background and work. The second sums up her answers on cyberbullying, which impressed me because, even if I had sent the questions weeks before, by pure chance the actual conversation took place only hours after the Sandy Hook tragedy.

Cyberbullying: how much does it change from country to country? /img/cyberbully.jpg

Who is Francesca?

Francesca Sanzo is an Italian professional blogger, trainer and digital PR expert based in Bologna, Italy. Francesca and I work, with complementary, little overlapping approaches, in very close fields (digital rights, awareness, citizenship…). In this period Francesca organizes frequent courses, meetings and seminars for students, adults and businesses on privacy, online identity and the rights and responsibilities that come with it. She teaches (among other things) how different generations can cooperate and communicate online, and how parents can introduce the digital world to their children. In all these cases, Francesca also explains how to use tools like blog, wikis and social networks to make the most of one’s creativity and professional skills and manage online presence.

USA vs Italian cyberbullying

Francesca believes, and after our conversations I generally agree, that there is a big difference in cyberbullying between Italy and USA, partly because the general approach to people is different. As she understands it, in the USA there is, in general, much less social cohesion than in Italy, and one of the consequences is a cyberbullying often due (and reacting) to isolation.

In the USA the problem is lack of integration, from economic and cultural divides to the isolation of families (both from society and inside each of them): there is, that is, not enough communication among family members, or between families and the rest of society. Such a radical exclusion is more unlikely to happen in Italy.

We do have many first generation immigrants who, unlike the USA, are still a big cultural “novelty” (if not a shock for some people). However, we also have a less individualist structure in schools. Besides, things in Italy, from job security to education quality are getting worse for most people these days, encouraging in some ways social cohesion and cooperation (this, in my opinion, strongly varies from place to place. I would have much more problems to provide examples of that cohesion from Rome, but Francesca lives in Bologna, a much smaller city).

The result, says Francesca, is that most online problems for young Italians in the 12-16 age range come from unbalanced relationships between genres: a strong component and cause of online bullying is not isolation, but sexualization. This, she believes, comes from the fact that, in Italy, power (including political power) is presented and lived in a sexualized scenario, or as a sexualized experience, at all levels.

Even communication and advertising in street billboards are hypersexualized. Now that I think about it, what I wrote in 2011 about men humiliating their ex-partners online would fit very well in Francesca’s picture. What do you think? Is cyberbullying in your country different? Please let us know.

(Image from J_O_I_D on Flickr)