Can we deny that we are daily flooded with uncritical information, clichés and prejudices? The daily flow of television news is not without them and often accentuates them, stimulating emotionality rather than reasoning. But an antidote to passive addiction is education, which today has found its own unprecedented space on YouTube: the credit goes to those who, young or not, propose authoritative and committed content, with the noble aim of encouraging the acquisition of independent thought. Below is a selection of them, which ranges from current affairs to cultural in-depth study, and even scientific divulgation.
Alessandro Masala, known as “Shooter hates you” (amicably Shy), was born in Cagliari in 1984 and decided to open a YouTube channel when he was just over twenty, following the abandonment of the Faculty of Political Science and some unsatisfactory work experiences. The intent is to dedicate himself to a creative activity that starts from his passions and brings quality content to the public, through reflections on politics, news and current affairs. Over the years Breaking Italy has developed what it is today, a channel that combines information and entertainment, a hybridisation that challenges and re-elaborates traditional journalism with exceptional results, succeeding in illuminating often complex and exhausting topics making them within everyone’s reach.
As Masala says in an interview with La Stampa (2019), the videos have a strong critical component and are structured in such a way as to show a method of reasoning, illustrating, in two separate parts, facts and reflections on them. A first part is dedicated to information, followed by a second part to comment, in which he proposes his point of view, formulated on the basis of relevant readings and, sometimes, direct comparisons with experts in the field. What makes Breaking Italy qualitatively significant is precisely the care with which the contents are created, starting from the reading of various authoritative online publications such as the Guardian and the Washington Post, from which Alessandro selects and deepens the topics he will discuss. The importance of the sources is central in his work, both in the production phase and in the relationship with the public to whom the same tools of verification and analysis adopted in the realization of the videos are transmitted. Alessandro not only informs about what is happening in the world, but also shows a critical method of approach to the news, which involves understanding the content and its reworking, aimed at making it easily accessible and enucleating stimulating food for thought.
Also winning is his narrative style, whose mixture of pungent irony and wise jokes dilutes the depth of the content in a light and enjoyable atmosphere. He often emphasizes the importance of awareness of the channel’s complexity and vocation for debate, encouraged by constant invitations to express opinions and opinions in comments to the week’s videos, punctually discussed in a live show, every Friday. A further demonstration of the desire to establish a relationship of trust with the public and subscribers, to whom the channel owes the opportunity to enrich itself with new content. In this sense, this year Breaking Italy Podcast was born, a parallel activity of interviews with leading contemporary personalities, aimed at dealing with complex issues relying on influential and qualified voices.
With love and squalor
Directly from one of J.D. Salinger’s Nine Tales, the YouTube channel of Ilenia Zodiaco, Sicilian since 1992. During her years of university studies (she currently boasts a degree in Modern Literature, a specialization in Media Communication and a Master in Publishing in Milan) Ilenia started a project dealing with books and reading, with the aim of expressing her passion and spreading it to her peers. The contents of her videos range from advice on how to get out of the reader’s block to monographic reviews, from gift ideas to updates on new releases or titles to rediscover. Her distinctive note is the competence she demonstrates in handling the literary text, of which she proposes brilliant critical analysis, able to enhance the qualities of a refined story as well as to highlight the weaknesses of an imperfect proof. From her videos we come out enriched by a more conscious and active approach to a text, able to master new analysis tools that encourage us to reflect on what we read and to mature a complete opinion about it.
The quality of Ilenia’s work is not limited to extending the readership, which in our country is dangerously reduced, but also manages to stimulate the fascination for knowledge, encouraging the acquisition of a critical attitude that can be spent in different contexts. In recent years, in fact, the channel has expanded the scope of its content, proposing analysis of TV series and reflections on environmental issues, also through the birth of Quasidì, a podcast co-produced with Valentina Tomić, dedicated to the generation of “almost”, that is, today’s youth, almost adult, almost independent, almost realized. Quasidì is the eighth day of the week in which to carve out the space to become aware of what is happening in our time, with reflections on society, politics, the media and much more, filtered through the expressive codes of pop culture, which exhort responsibility and combat disinformation.
Science vs fake news
In parallel with the growth of distrust towards any confirmed authority, simple solutions to complex problems involving our health are multiplying on the web. Against these forms of deception, reliable and competent scientific disseminators intervene, such as Dario Bressanini and Beatrice Mautino, a chemist and a biotechnology technologist lent to the unmasking of false myths too widespread. Bressanini, professor at the University of Insubria, collaborates with the journal Le Scienze dealing with food and gastronomy from a scientific point of view, has written several books on chemistry applied to cooking and uses his YouTube channel to demolish legends and false information on diet and health. Following him you will discover that brown sugar is no healthier than normal sugar, that “organic” does not mean “safer” and that the mechanism of online deception consists of a mixture of false and true information, presented in a way that scares the consumer (Bressanini 2013).
Attitude shared by Mautino, a researcher who investigates the world of cosmetics, educating to a conscious use of sunscreen, teaching that the price of a cream does not affect its effectiveness, revealing that cellulite is not a disease and cannot disappear. To provide readers with critical tools essential to defend themselves from advertising logic, in his book Il trucco c’è si vede, with simple and witty language, Mautino illuminates the scientific truths that industrial production, with tricks and trivializations, knowingly conceals. Exemplary is the case of the demonization of parabens, due to the dissemination of research that postulated a correlation between the use of products containing these substances and breast cancer. A study carried out on a partial and inadequate sample which, although refuted in 2008, has been relaunched by newspapers and activists, inducing companies to make “paraben free” products to fight their competitors. This is why today we are flooded with “paraben free” products, with the idea that if this is taken away, something will be negative.
Mautino and Bressanini try to infuse a scientific culture in people, warning them from feelings of easy consolation and showing that science does not give simple answers to complex questions: establishing a binary classification of products (sano-harmful) is misleading and is one of the many strategies used by marketing, which has no interest in explaining but simply in selling.
At this point it seems essential to lay down old-fashioned prejudices that consider the web the theatre of disengagement, while fighting the stigma that weighs on influencers, often owners of projects worthy of consideration and respect.
To learn more
- Bencivelli, Silvia (2018). «Raccontare la scienza (non come Voyager)». MicroMega, 3, 155-166.
- Bressanini, Dario (2013). «Dieci VERO o FALSO sul biologico». Le Scienze Blog, 18 novembre. URL http://bressanini-lescienze.blogautore.espresso.repubblica.it/2013/11/18/dieci-vero-o-falso-sul-biologico/ (2020-05-15).
- Mautino, Beatrice (2018). Il trucco c’è e si vede. Milano: Chiarelettere.
- Milano, Francesca (2017). «Ilenia Zodiaco, la youtuber che recensisce libri». Il Sole 24 Ore, 13 aprile. URL https://francescamilano.blog.ilsole24ore.com/2017/04/13/ilenia-zodiaco-la-youtuber-che-recensisce-libri/ (2020-05-15).
- Tammaro, Gianmaria (2019). «Dietro le quinte di Youtube con Alessandro Masala: “Con Breaking Italy avvicino la gente ad argomenti alti”». La Stampa, 1 agosto. URL https://www.lastampa.it/cultura/2019/08/01/news/dietro-le-quinte-di-youtube-con-alessandro-masala-con-breaking-italy-avvicino-la-gente-ad-argomenti-alti-1.37279043 (2020-05-15).