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Tracing Twitter to 16th century Rome
I have been thinking about Pasquino a lot lately as I read stories about social media and pseudonyms, the so-called "nym wars." Social media websites, such as Facebook and Google Plus, have faced criticism for banning users from using pseudonyms on their sites. On the other hand, Twitter has all but embraced anonymity and fake accounts on its service, allowing users to pose as fake politicians, CEOs, and other public figures as a form of satire or a way to air grievances without reprisal. In light of the recent irreverent online reactions to the Italian debt crisis and the resignation of long-time Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, some Italian bloggers have referred to Internet critics as "Pasquino digitali," a term that can be traced back to that ugly statue and its role as a tool of protest during the 16th century.
Pasquino's success as a bulletin board for anonymous witticisms prompted more statues in Rome to begin talking. At least five other statues in Rome are known to have engaged in "conversations" with Pasquino. The most famous of these copycat statues was Marforio, who regularly posed questions to Pasquino about current events. When the statues' conversations proved too satirical for the church, Pope Innocent X had Marforio moved to the Capitoline Museums, where he rests silently today.
Quod non fecerunt barbari, fecerunt Barberini
(What the Barbarians didn't do, the Barberini did.)
Almost 500 years have passed since Romans first posted their handwritten protests on Pasquino. Even in the age of digital media, Pasquino's base is still covered in anti-government poems, snarky asides about enemies, and complaints about community affairs. Many of these are now collected on the blog pasquinate.it and shared @pasquinateblog. But travelers who are also passionate about Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus would do well to pay Pasquino a visit on their next visit to Rome to see social media in its earliest form.
Photo by zak mc/Flickr