Seganti, F. R., & Ragnetti, G. (2012). Fattorello 2.0. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 6(1), Article 8. doi:
 Fattorello 2.0

Fattorello 2.0

Francesca Romana Seganti1, Giuseppe Ragnetti2
1,2Fattorello Institute, Rome, Italy

The main aim of this paper is to illustrate Francesco Fattorello's theory (the "Social Technique of Information" written in the '50s) in order to provide scholars in the Communication field with a model of communication that is an appropriate answer to the needs of today's democratic societies. Despite the fact that Fattorello had been a member of the founding group of the International Association of Media and Communication Research IAMCR/AIERI in Paris, 1957, today his work is not known at an international level, especially in the Anglo-Saxon academia. This is due to the fact that when Fattorello’s theory was developed, it was not taken into consideration because of the dominance of the Frankfurt School theorizations that individualized in mass communication a process that determined people's behaviors. Sixty years ago it was not easy for scholars and those employed in industry to accept Fattorello's idea of an audience who had equal dignity to the promoting subject, because s/he had the same thinking abilities. Instead of accepting the idea that the media industry enterprises imposed values, behaviors and patterns that served to maintain domination, Fattorello focused on audiences as active participants, as the pivot of the process of communication. We will see that the diagrammatic formula in which Fattorello's model is expressed looks very similar to something with which we are very familiar; that is the Web communication paradigm. Fattorello's model, which is significantly different than some of the current mainstream theoretical approaches to media and communication, is compared to dominant mass communication models (from the earliest models to contemporary dominant paradigms) to further enrich the debate. Finally, we believe that Fattorello's model can shed light on other models of mass communication.

Keywords: theory of communication, mass communication, online communication

doi: 10.5817/CP2012-1-8


The aim of this paper is to provide students and scholars in the Communication field with the knowledge of Francesco Fattorello's theory (the Social Technique of Information written in the '50s), which can help us understand the dynamics of online communication, and is an appropriate answer to the needs of today's democratic societies of nowadays. Fattorello was a member of the founding group of the International Association of Media and Communication Research IAMCR/AIERI in Paris in 1957. His work had been translated only into French and Spanish from the original Italian. Recently it has been translated into English and will be published soon by IAMCR. So, until today his work is not known at an international level, especially in the English-speaking academia. This is due to the fact that when Fattorello’s theory was developed, it was not taken into consideration because of the dominance of the Frankfurt School critical theory that, through authors such as Adorno, Marcuse and Horkheimer, individualized in mass communication a process that determined people's behaviours. The scholars of the Frankfurt School, both in Germany and later in the USA where some of them moved to escape the Nazi regime, aimed at explaining the failure of liberalism, and the consequent lack of freedom of speech and creativity. They pointed at the nullification of the individuals' unique personality operated by society and mass media. The Frankfurt School saw the function of the media as controlling the public in the interests of capital. As Gephart (1999) explains, the basic assumption of the critical theory tradition is that the material world we encounter is both real and is produced by and through capitalist modes of production. Capitalism is seen as an unequal system in which the owners of production (the capitalists) have not only the right to exploit workers' force (who are underpaid and do not benefit at all of the profit or surplus labour value that on the contrary turn the owners of production into a few very powerful dominant corporation) but also the ability to mask forms of exploitation by ideology (Gephart, 1999, Online). According to the Frankfurt School, mass media are the agents of degeneration, they are cultural industries manipulating society by replacing real cultural values with an imposed set of values and believes whose function is to maintain the power of the dominant class. The vulgar culture produced by radio, cinema and television creates "an aura which makes the spectator seems to experience a nonexistent actuality" (Adorno, 1965, p. XiV).

From the above, it clearly emerges that sixty years ago it was not easy for scholars and those employed in industry to accept Fattorello's idea of an audience who had equal dignity to the promoting subject, because s/he had the same thinking abilities. Instead of accepting the idea that the media industry enterprises imposed values, behaviours and patterns that served to maintain domination, Fattorello in the '50s focused on audiences as active participants, as the pivot of the process of communication.

Following a brief presentation of Fattorello's life and work, in the third section of the paper we will illustrate his model, the Social Technique of Information. We will see that the diagrammatic formula in which Fattorello's model is expressed looks very similar to something with which we are very familiar; that is the Web communication paradigm. We argue that the way users have appropriated the Web is the natural evolution of the dynamics of human communication interpreted through a model that, as McQuail would suggest, has always given due weight to the fact that "the effects (of mediated communication) are determined at least as much by the sender as by the receiver" (McQuail, 2005, p.456). Regarding this, in section four of the paper, we explain why Fattorello traced a difference between "opinion" and "knowledge" and how this difference can help understand why he believed mass media could not determine people's behaviour. In the fifth section of the paper, it is explained that Fattorello's theory never dealt with media effects. Fattorello's model, which is significantly different than some of the current mainstream theoretical approaches to media and communication, is compared to dominant mass communication models (from the earliest models to contemporary dominant paradigms) to further enrich the debate. We believe that Fattorello's model can shed light on other models of mass communication. Finally, due to space restriction we cannot review some additional aspects of the Social Technique of Information, which requires a more in depth discussion, but we hope this brief review can serve as a spur for discussion.

Who was Francesco Fattorello

Before explaining Fattorello's theory in details, we would like to spend a few words about his life and professional career. The following is a short summary and for a more detailed biography we suggest the forthcoming book.

Fattorello was born in Pordenone (Northern Italy) in 1902. He graduated in Law in 1924. He was fond of classics and literature. In 1923, he launched the Rivista Letteraria delle Tre Venezie (The Tri-Veneto Literary Review), a periodical review dedicated to the history of journalism. At the beginning of 1929, Fattorello started teaching at the University of Economic Studies of Trieste. Among other things, Fattorello edited the second edition of a book on the origins of journalism in Italy. In the Academic Year 1934-1935, Fattorello taught his first course in the history of journalism at the Department of Political Science at the Regia Università of Rome. Fattorello, undertook scientific analysis that, developed in the following years, he began to constitute a basis for the ‘science of journalism’. In examining the means of information through the ages, he came to the conclusion that the history of journalism was, above all, the history of public opinion and its various manifestations, rather than the history of journalism itself (please find in section five a more detailed explanation of what he means by "opinion"). This innovative idea already contained in nuce a trial version of the theory of information to which he dedicated himself following World War II. As a matter of fact, at that time he had already started to teach the Social Technique of Information Theory, through which he sought to provide future journalists with a social technique to obtain the adhesion of opinion of the readers. We know little about Fattorello’s activity in the early 1940s’ but we can imagine he did not compare his model with the "two-step model of mediated influence" (which focused on the role of social networks and opinion leaders - Katz and Lazarsfeld, 1955), with the "limited effects" (or minimal effect model, which shifted attention to the role of audiences in the mass communication process - Klapper, 1960) and with "uses and gratifications" theory (which asserts that we should investigate “not what the media does to the public but what the public does with the media" - Katz, Blumler, and Gurevitch, 1974.) because his main aim was not to contribute to the field of communication research and theory but only to form journalists. We suppose he was not interested in confuting the Frankfurt School theory of mass indoctrination by the media. The aim of his studies was the individualization of those characteristics specific to the journalistic phenomenon.

After the Second World War, Fattorello went to Rome and started teaching at Faculty of Statistics and Actuarial Sciences of the University "La Sapienza". Fattorello was one of the few scholars in Italy teaching courses in journalism history. That followed the Second World War. Due to the cultural influence of the USA, in Italy there was a tendency to privilege courses in publicity and marketing research. In 1947 Fattorello established the Italian Institute of Journalism (Istituto Italiano di Pubblicismo). Furthermore, he was a founding member of the Italian Centre for Studies in Information (Centro Italiano per gli Studi sull’Informazione) which was sponsored by UNESCO. He presented his model of communication at the Centre Internationale d’Enseignement Superieure du Journalisme at the University of Strasbourg and then he published the first edition of the Introduction to the Social Technique of Information. Several editions followed. The last one was printed in 1970 and is now impossible to find.

As mentioned in the introduction, from 1964 to 1981, when he was nominated as Honorary Life Member, Fattorello was Vice-President of the IAMCR/AIERI. Francesco Fattorello died in Udine on the 3rd of October, 1985.

The Social Technique of Information

According to Fattorello there is a difference between transmitting, informing and communicating. Transmitting and informing are two allied, but distinct processes. Transmitting is mechanical; it is the act of passing information from a sender to a receiver. Informing, as found in scholastic philosophy and neo-scholasticism, is the act of giving something a form; that is the act of interpreting a reality and express the interpretation through a representation. On the other hand, communicating is the act of establishing a relationship. According to Fattorello, one can transmit information but there where the sender (in his words, the Promoting Subject) is not able to establish a relationship with the receiver (the Receiving Subject) there is no communication. Therefore the most important axiom of Palo Alto's school "One cannot not communicate" would not be valid for Fattorello. He would say: "One cannot not transmit signals". Conditio sine qua non for communicating is that between the Promoting Subject and the Receiving Subject there is a convergence of interpretation on the proposed interpretation; that is on the "O" ("formula di opinione" in Italian). In order to reach an agreement it is the key that the Promoter adapts his/her version of reality to the thinking abilities of the Receiving Subjects. S/he also has to be able to choose the ideal media. It follows the diagrammatic formula below.

Figure 1: The Social Technique of Information

The letter "x" indicates the objective reality. This letter is in parenthesis indicating that it remains outside the process. If I wish to communicate that an earthquake took place, it is not the earthquake itself that I put between me and the Receiver, but my interpretation of the event. So, according to Fattorello, the Promoting Subject transmits through the appropriate media the ‘form’ s/he has given to what s/he has interpreted. In case the Promoting Subject is able to arouse the interest of the Receiving Subject, to attract his/her attention, and have him/her understand and agree with the proposed interpretation; what happens is that the Receiving Subject in turn becomes a Promoter. So, the Receiving Subject does not limit himself to receive the form ("O"), or better to decode the message, but interprets it and in turn becomes a promoter. Therefore in the social context Fattorello's formula can be expanded as in the table below:

Figure 2: The Social Technique of Information

According to Fattorello, the phenomenon of information has neither a beginning nor an end, like the formula above through which it is represented.

It is interesting to notice that the above looks like a now well-known representation; that is the way online communication is usually represented. We must consider that Fattorello's intuition precedes the birth of the Web by about thirty-five years.

The difference between "Opinion" and "Knowledge"

According to Fattorello, by using the Social Technique of Information, one can influence opinions, which have no stability and can change quickly. Opinion, as found in Stoetzel (1943), is not rooted in the individuals. Opinion is provisional, ephemeral, contextual, and, above all, subjective. Particularly through instruments such as propaganda, advertising and information you can easily act on opinion. Propaganda seeks to achieve the audiences' immediate adhesion with all available means and methods. Similarly, advertising aims at obtaining an immediate adhesion, except that its purpose is to sell products. This aim is obtained by the study of social attitudes that characterize the acculturation of the audience. By "acculturation", Fattorello intends all that is found in the social ambience that, inevitably, covers the entire life of every human being. In order to do so, for example, a newspaper that addresses very generic readers including specialists and less qualified receivers will not deal with complex themes, nor can it use a complex terminology but it should use common language. In other words, according to Fattorello, the forms that act on political journalism information or, for example, propaganda or advertising must, as far as possible, be "factors of conformity". The more similar they are, the greater will be the process of information’s success. Moreover, information that addresses a generic public usually is characterized by a lack of precision. The lack of precision to which the text of political journalism information must respond is naturally a different thing to didactic "diffusion". A political journalist must always obtain temporary agreement, contingent to the Receiver, on what the journalist wants to let them know. The newspaper is the ideal media to convey contingent information because it is published daily and it is always new. What is written on a newspaper is valid and important today but no longer valid and important tomorrow. Reading it does not require the Receiving Subject continuous attention and commitment. The newspaper therefore emerge as the perfect media to convey information that is temporary and contingent as the adhesion of opinions journalists try to obtain.

On the contrary, the knowledge we share through education is not linked to the present and has a huge effect because it is not contingent. When the Promoter is not a journalist or an advertiser, but a school teacher, then the information process cannot be based on stereotypical factors of conformity, but on values. The phenomenon’s processes will be those of slow, gradual and logical persuasion. The Promoter, then, has no time limits (as for example in the case of using television as media) in informing his Receivers and does not have to conform to the needs of contingent opportunities. In contrast with the journalist, the teacher seeks to enrich the mental scheme previously assimilated by the Receiver with a logical, gradual and rational procedure. The teachers' means are books which require concentration, silence, loneliness and give the reader the possibility to stop and think and reflect. The Receiver no longer has the psychosocial characteristics of the generic public but is committed to listen, understand and learn. A similar process cannot be activated through the usage of mass media which can give the viewers the illusion of having learned something but in practice only conveys contingent information which do not contribute to our experience. For Fattorello mass media contents can reinforce pre-existing values and believes but cannot create them. Only the knowledge derived from direct experience and specialized sources contribute to the formation of the persona. Instead, mass media can only affect our opinions, which implies only a temporary effect that is not going to affect our identity.

Fattorello's model and the dominant paradigms in mass communication

McQuail (2005) outlines four basic models for the study of mass communication that, as he argues, developed under conditions of transition to the highly organized and central industrial society of the twentieth century. The four dominant paradigms he outlines are: the transmission model, the publicity model, the ritual model and the reception model. Fattorello's model of communication can help us understand such dominant paradigms.

For example, Lasswell's model (1927) represents the transmission paradigm, according to which signals or messages are transmitted over distance for the purpose of control. In Table 1, we can see how Fattorello's model differs from Lasswell’s formula.

Table 1: Comparison between Lasswell's model and Fattorello's model

From the above, we see that Lasswell's question "Says what?" does not take into consideration the existence of the x; that is the objective reality which Fattorello puts outside the process. Looking at Lasswell's model it seems that reality can be interpreted in an objective way. Furthermore, in Fattorello's model, the question "to what effect?" is not posed. This does not mean that its importance is overlooked, but that Fattorello thought that it was impossible to predict the effects of mass communication. The aim of the Promoter is to obtain an agreement on the formula of opinion s/he transmits and therefore it is necessary that the Promoter attempts to adapt to the Receivers' desires or, perhaps, respond to their curiosity. Even when there is an "agreement in opinion" on determined formulae; that is the agreement to a formula on the scale of opinion constituted by the problem x, the Promoter cannot be sure to obtain the desired effect. The Promoter of contingent information such as news cannot have an impact on the experience of the Receiver of the information and therefore cannot determine his/her behaviour. Fattorello aimed at pointing out that receivers bring a context to the reception of every message. The context derives from knowledge not from opinion. He was clearly against a linear view that reduces communication to a mechanical process. Thus, anticipating what authors such as Denis McQuail and David Gauntlett would have argued later:

After over sixty years of a considerable amount of research effort, direct effects of media upon behaviour have not been clearly identified, then we should conclude that they are simply not there to be found (Gauntlett, 1998, Online).

Gauntlett argues that the media effects research has quite consistently taken the wrong approach to the mass media, its audiences, and society in general and, after having criticized different aspects of the "effects model", he points out that the failure of the model does not mean that the impact of mass media can no longer be considered or investigated. So, since it is clear that it is impossible to offer a "how to" guide, we hope to provide scholars with an alternative approach to such a complex area of study. McQuail (2005) argues that even in cases where we can make forecasts, this is usually based on experience and empirical rules, rather than on a precise knowledge of how a given effect is verified or can be verified. According to him, the availability of this type of pragmatic knowledge, based on experience, is what makes it possible for the media and their clients to continue to operate without making too many demands. McQuail claims that it is not easy to show a case in which the media can be considered to be the unique and indispensable cause of a determined social effect.

Building on The Social Technique of Information, we develop the theory of the crystallographic structure of communication. In this view, the Subject participating in the communication process is situated in any point of a crystallographic structure. The structure, which is described below, symbolically represents the complex communication system in which we live in and includes an infinite number of perceptive stimuli.

Figure 3: The crystallographic structure of communication

Since s/he was born, the subject is immersed in the incommensurable sea of communication. This amniotic fluid is made of a variety of messages that will or will not contribute to the formation of the individual sphere, which is unique in each of us. Certain stimuli will filter through the subject's mind, depending on factors such as his/her emotional intelligence, motivational resources and acculturation. For example, stimuli derive from the information that we are given from people with whom we share our social space, friends, parents, grandparents, teachers etc. As well, all the concepts we learn and interpret from books are considered stimuli. Stimuli can be social, environmental, geographical, and meteorological. All the stimuli we are subject to throughout our life participate in the formation of the crystallographic structure. Perception is therefore a crucial theme within the system. In our view, perception is extremely subjective and works in different ways in each of us. It is the process through which we process stimuli from the external environment in a useful and meaningful way. Perception creates a personal world map by which we approach and react to the external environment. Basically it creates a map corresponding to our own cultural and social believes, values and interests. It creates our own personal filter.

So, within the crystallographic structure of communication the nature of non-contingent information (information that produces knowledge) finds a way to trigger mechanisms that are unlikely to unsolder. Non-contingent information will then be crystallized and belongs to ourselves, to our patterns of thought that continuously need to be expressed and changed. The crystallographic structure of communication is metaphorically like a network of multidimensional webs intersecting each other and continuously weaving themselves. It is like a gimmick with multiple heads in which we decide where to locate ourselves and what information let in (only we possess the key of the gate/filter).

Therefore, we can also compare Fattorello's model with the publicity model, according to which the "primary aim of mass media is neither to transmit particular information nor to unite a public in some expression of culture but simply to catch and hold visual or aural attention" (McQuail, 2005, p.71).

McQuail explains that according to this model, the media attain one direct economic goal which is to gain audience revenue (since attention equals consumption - for most practical purposes -) and to sell audience attention to advertisers; the fact of being known is more important than the content of what is known. Therefore attention attaining is an end in itself and form and technique take precedence over message content. According to Fattorello's model, there is no point in focusing on the form of the message if this is done without considering the role of the Receiving Subject. As Fattorello argues, certain messages will filter through our mind only when the Promoting Subject adapts the meaning of the message to the Receiving Subject in order to obtain a convergence of interpretation on the proposed opinions. Possessing active thinking abilities, each Subject may agree or not with the proposed formulas of opinion (in Fattorello's words) that every day mass media propose. The interpretation ("O") of the message is therefore key to open every human being's "gate"; one can decide which of the received stimuli s/he wants to elaborate, develop and improve based on her/his own perception. Convergence of interpretation depends on sharing codes and meanings.

This is in line with less linear, less mechanic and less reductive approaches that prevail in media studies today. The reception model for example that developed from Hall's encoding and decoding model (Hall, 1980) can be combined with the Social Technique of Information. Hall argues that texts are polysemic and that there is no necessary correspondence between the message encoded by the film or program maker and that decoded by audiences. Accordingly, for Fattorello, interpretation ("O") is always subjective, can vary and cannot be predicted. Generally speaking (given that Cultural Studies cannot be seen as cast in stone) when Hall (1974/80) argues that receivers are not obliged to accept messages as sent but can do resist ideological influence by applying variant or oppositional readings, according to their own experience or outlook, the degree of correspondence between his theory and ours is clear. In line with Hall, Fattorello argued that to understand the role of the media, one must discover how different individuals respond to any particular program and analyze how the relationship of information between Promoter and Receiving Subject is articulated. As Hall, he promoted a social theory of subjectivity and meaning construction.

Like Stuart Hall's encoding-decoding model, the work of James Carey (1989), and his notion of a ritual model of communication (versus a transmission model) provided scholars with a new orientation. Carey argued against the dominant linear model and defined communication as a symbolic process whereby reality is produced, maintained, repaired and transformed. Ritual communication is relatively timeless and unchanging. Fattorello would agree as long as we refer to a ritual as a contingent event which activates and stimulates in the Receiving Subject the reception of non-contingent information, the deep and not stereotyped knowledge (e.g. values, attitudes and believes) that does not adhere to the logic of media consumption. Thus reinforcing pre-existing values. Moreover, according to a ritual view, the message of ritual communication is usually latent and ambiguous depending on associations and symbols that are not chosen by the participants but are made available in the culture (McQuail, 2005, p.70). Fattorello would add that the Receiving Subjects participate in the ritual when their acculturation allows them to converge with the interpretation of the reality proposed during the ritual. So participants play an active role in the ritual where cultural symbols and cultural messages are renewed and legitimized.

The phenomenon of information as a continuous flux: Fattorello 2.0

Contrary to broadcasting applications, today online media offer individuals channels of one-to-one and many-to-many communication by sending and receiving messages within a collection of people. This mode of communication has allowed users various kinds of participation (user-generated content, DIY culture, peer-to-peer) and audiences are no longer restricted to the position of a ‘critical reader’ but can rely on new worldwide connected social structures, communication, and distribution channels (Jenkins, 2006b, p.246). The active role of the Receiving Subject is therefore "under the sun" within the Web. Thus highlighting all the elements that Fattorello had theorized about 20 years before the ARPANET (The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) was launched and nearly 40 years before the advent of the Web. In this section we will explain the dynamics of online communication according to his model. Our final aim is to show that the Social Technique can serve as a trait d'union between models of mass communication and more recent models.

As seen in section 3 of the paper, In Fattorello's model, the Receiving Subject may consider becoming a Promoter of the information. Thus creating a chain that develops horizontally. In such a case mediated content is not only consumed but also produced. The communication structure that develops is:

  • Reciprocal. Communication is two way because a relationship has to be established between the Promoting and the Receiving Subjects.
  • Egalitarian. Fattorello has always said that the Receiving Subject has the same thinking faculties as the Promoter (the Receiving Subject has to let the information in, s/he has to decode it).
  • Decentralised and Open. The dynamics of the relationship of information operate according to a many to many pattern, as shown in Figure 2.
  • Based on reputation and meaning rather than hierarchies. As explained, the social phenomenon of information is based on a convergence of interpretation which is due to the fact that Promoter adapts the form of the message to the needs of the Receiver who would not otherwise be open to decode it. To put it simply, the Promoter should put him/herself in the shoes of the receiver. Therefore having an authoritative rather than authoritarian attitude.

Described this way it might seem that if we interpret online communication through Fattorello's model, the Web emerges as a space where everyone can communicate with everyone else as in celebrative rhetorical discourses about cyberspace and utopian visions, which looks at the Web as a space where differences are erased. However, Fattorello's model takes into consideration that within a network of people communication is not given for granted. Fattorello argues that only an agreement on a proposed interpretation can guarantee a convergence. Convergence is given by sharing acculturation and it is interesting to notice that this thought anticipated Appadurai's (1997) assumptions regarding those requisites which contribute to the creation of “virtual neighbourhoods” that are supported by the Web. Appadurai (1997) argues that today the requisites for the initiation of relationships are shared feelings and interests, shared knowledge and the ability to take part in discourses and communication. He refers to contexts, in which the development and the extension of urban agglomerates, the multiplication of transportation and communication networks, the globalization of information and images, and migrations have produced profound changes. As we all know, in the online space users have the potentiality to share a variety of contents, but where a cultural correspondence is lacking, the relationship of information will not be established. The content cannot be received or understood, or will be misunderstood, or whatever, with difficulty and with considerable dystonia. Internet Studies (Graham, 2004; Wakeford, 2004; Silver, 2004; Jones, 2005) suggest that life offline has considerable repercussions on online relationships and communities, and that the interdependency between online and offline must never be underestimated. As well, while there is no question that there are a large number of transnational communities on the Web, we must remember that many online interactions are "profoundly local" (Graham, 2004, p.21). Analysing the use and experience of new media in contemporary urban contexts, Graham argues that new media are increasingly used to reconfigure the place-based worlds and mobilities of everyday urban life. He encourages Internet researchers not to underestimate that identity is always somewhere and always located in some sense of place, even when new media act as "prostheses" to extend human actions, identities and communities in time and space (Graham, 2004, p.22). We can therefore see how relevant is sharing the formation acquired by sharing non-contingent information (the phenomenon of culture is tied to this category) in order to guarantee the reciprocity in online social exchanges. These, on the other hand, occur also through contingent information which contributes to the socialization process and to confirm crystallized opinions and pre-existing values. For example, a recent study by Seganti and Smahel (2011) who analysed the online dynamics of interaction between a group of Italian subculturalists, demonstrated that the absence of pre-existing shared concrete daily practices led teens who met on Social Network Sites (SNS) to create identity markers, such as nicknames and dress codes, evoking shared symbols and providing those who have little to share online with something to talk about. Seganti and Smahel found that the SNS provided most subculturalists, especially those who lived far from each other, with a temporary space for expressing their “diversity”. The SNS supports the dissemination and enhances the popularity of “subcultural symbols”, “subcultural celebrities” and “subcultural stories” that are "formulae of opinion" aiming at creating provisional agreement through which previously isolated youths can merge and be “born” again as subjects whose difference is recognised as familiar by other subculturalists. Depending on the subjects' acculturation, most of the relationships built on the sharing of such formulae were found to be as ephemeral as the contingent information on which they were built. For us, then, the effect of such relationships must be sought in a subsequent stage, which is already distant, not in a spacio-temporal sense, but in a motivational one, in the primitive relationship of information.


Our aim was to explain that the theory of communication that Fattorello developed in the '30s in order to show that the history of journalism resembles the history of public opinion can be used to shed light on dominant paradigms of mass communication but also to help us understand the dynamics of online communication. In line with Fattorello's theory, we believe that the way communication develops in the online space is the result of profound social needs that each of us may have. The Web did not create the need of a decentralised, horizontal and equal style of communication but has only provided technical support to express a mode of communication that, in Fattorello's view, is the only one possible. For Fattorello, communicating is synonym with sharing, with "having in common" that is the condition to establish the relationship needed by the Promoter of the information to obtain the adhesion of opinion of the Receiver. According to Fattorello, human needs cannot be created nor imposed, as the Frankfurt School Theory claimed. Where there is no equality, there is no exchange and therefore there is no communication. The Promoting Subject may only be able to convey a message to the Receiving Subject when s/he adapts his/her version of reality to the perceptual map of the Receiver. The Promoter's act of adapting his/her interpretation to the Receiver shows that the audience has an active role in the communication process. The Receiver has to open his/her perceptual filter, and only afterwards may agree with the proposed formula of opinion, and may, in turn, become a Promoter. Then, our personality cannot be nullified by mass media exposure because mass media such as newspapers, radio and television can only be used to promote contingent information that does not contribute to the formation of the individual subjectivity. Within the crystallographic structure of communication, one's ability to produce thoughts and to behave in a certain way is never the result of a few known stimuli, but of an immeasurable amount of stimuli. So, mass media certainly can act on our temporary opinions (we are all against the war) or reinforce our values, but are unable to influence the behaviour of men. There are other reasons, some of which are known, as for example the consequences of the process of non-contingent information, and some of which are less known that are the basis of our actions.

We would like to conclude quoting a passage from McQuail's book. McQuail explains that the basic models of mass communication he mentioned were developed under special feature (massive, one-directional communication) and in a context very different from today. He argues:

Not everything has changed but we are now faced with new technological possibilities form communication that are many to many and there is a shift from the early massification of society. These changes are already recognized in mass communication theory, although the shift is cautious and much of conceptual framework erected from mass communication remains relevant. We still have mass politics, mass markets and mass consumption. The media have extended their scale on a global dimension. The beliefs vested in the power of publicity, public relations and propaganda by other names are still widely held by those with economic and political power. The 'dominant paradigm' that emerged in early communication research is still with us because it fits many of the conditions of contemporary media operation and it meets the needs of media industries, advertisers and publicists. Media propagandists remain convinced of the manipulative capacity of the media and the malleability of the 'masses'. (McQuail, 2005, p. 71)

Finally, we want to communicate Fattorello's model because we want to provide Communication scholars and their students who will become journalists, copywriters and politicians with a model that can help understand previous model and opposes once for all the view of media propagandists. We argue that for those with economic power, it is convenient to have people believe in the power of publicity, public relation and propaganda. So, people can blame the media and don't think about their own responsibility in social change. Instead, if journalists, copywriters and politicians who are not yet powerful and don't belong to the dominant media industry, became aware of the audiences' active role in the process of communication, they can create a shift in power relations, as the success of citizen journalism shows. Citizen journalists use without knowing it the Social Technique of Information, as shown in the figure below. They know very well their readers because they are part of the community they address. It is easy for them to adapt their versions' of reality to their readers' acculturation. Being part of the community of reference, they are at the same level of the Receiving Subjects.

Figure 4: Online communication according to Fattorello's model

We know that many authors, such as Jenkins, have already explained the success of online communication by focusing on the active role of the audiences, but we hope that Fattorello's model can support and reinforce such views. We hope to spread our vision of the communication, which is the fruit of our acculturation, and we hope this view is shared by someone else, who in turn talks to others.


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Correspondence to:
Giuseppe Ragnetti
Istituto Fattorello
Via del Seraphicum 1
00142, Rome, Italy

Email: eugeneios(at)
Email: frseganti(at)

Copyright (c) 2012 Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace

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