Looking to Italian Instagram Stories for Information and Social Good

When Elisa started her Instagram account 3 years ago, she used the platform to help fellow travelers learn the more intricate details about her home city of Rome, Italy. Elisa’s account, @RomeInside, has over 35,000 followers and she provides tips and insider cultural information about the city of Rome. She covers food, culture, music, city sights, archaeological sites and art exhibits. In the more recent past, she’s used her account to keep her audience informed about the current countrywide quarantine and civilian lockdown during the global Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. As you likely know by now, Italy has bore the brunt of the more disastrous parts of the outbreak, unfortunately becoming the second worst-hit in terms of casualties.

Since 2014 I’ve been fortunate to spend my summers in Italy, specifically Rome, documenting and mapping socio-political and cultural shifts in the region. As a new media educator, I look to accounts like Elisa’s to inform my work and learn about the region from the local perspective. Learning a city is difficult — the currency, ordering food, the cuisine, and trying to see as much as possible. Pages like Elisa’s bridge those gaps.

During the Covid-19 coronavirus global pandemic, Elisa has used her platform to help her followers understand the severity of the situation as well as how Italy is dealing with the most severe outcome of the pandemic. In one of her videos from earlier this week, she gives a robust update about the ongoing situation.

I archived a story from Elisa’s account — follow her at @RomeInside

This situation is unprecedented in the digital media era. We look to each other for advice as the indefinite nature of the crisis and the variety of unknowns contribute to an ongoing anxiety. As a result, people from around the world have looked to Italy to see how to handle the situation.

Elisa told me that 75% of her audience are non-Italian and while she doesn’t consider herself an influencer in the commodified sense, she recognizes that her role as a popular page operator gives her a sort of obligation to inform her audience about things she cares about. In this severe a case, the responsibility to inform is her priority.

We’ve seen the beautiful videos of Italy’s shared solitude — the new paradigm of being alone together — and they provide some hope in this time.

Elisa told me that she hoped that she could tell stories about some of the missteps Italy had made and how maybe that could be helpful to other countries. (Though in the US, it seems that the citizens are listening but the government still has no idea what to do.) She said that she’s received a lot of positive feedback for her posts and her updates. The pivot to social good is not far from Elisa’s goal of being a friendly local that helps visitors “out there just like me who enjoy knowing more about the culture and the places they’re about to visit.”

In the recent days, Elisa promoted the accounts of @guglielmomoscilla and @cane_secco who are influencers who have also moved their Instagram stories to informative and positive content.

Perhaps we can look to Italy for more examples of national unity and community engagement and also look at how the method of digital storytelling can be a platform of information and important messaging. Instagram stories are an important tool, and while we’re inside, keep informed and take Elisa’s lead and inform as well.

Digital Culture Expert. Cultural and Media Studies PhD. Co-author of the first peer-reviewed article on Pepe the frog. Teaches Media Studies at Queens College

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