Facebook Gags Italian Populists Two Weeks Before EU Elections

Facebook has banned 23 major Italian pro-populist pages with a combined 2.5 million followers two weeks before the European elections, according to Italy's La Stampa

The majority of the bans were for supporters of the current coalition government; La Lega (The League), headed by Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, and the 5-star movement, M5S, led by Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio. Among them, the most popular Facebook page for La Lega was taken down, right as polls reveal massive support for the party. 

Facebook claims that the sites were spreading fake news, "hate speech," and "divisive content" about immigrants, vaccines and Jews, after left-wing "human rights" and environmentalist non-government organization (NGO) Avaaz issued a report on "inauthentic behavior" over Italian Facebook networks.  

"We thank Avaaz for sharing its research so we could investigate," said a Facebook spokesoperson. "We are committed to protecting the integrity of the EU elections and around the world. We have removed a series of false and duplicate accounts that violated our policies on the subject of authenticity, as well as several pages for violation of the policy on changing the name.

"We have also taken action against some pages that have repeatedly spread misinformation. We will take further measures if we find other violations," added Facebook. 

In one example, some of the Facebook pages were sharing a video depicting migrants smashing a car, which was actually an amateur recording of a scene being filmed for an Italian drama, Mediterranea.  

In its report, which was presented to Facebook on May 3, Avaaz said it had identified 14 Italian networks on Facebook comprising 104 pages and six groups, with a total reach of 18.2 million followers.

This week, Facebook took punitive action against 23 pages in these networks, with a total of 2.46 million followers and 2.44 million interactions over the last three months.

Facebook has also reportedly “weakened” pages that spread content with allegedly false news, presumably making them less visible to Facebook users.

The technical motivation for the closing of the pages is linked to name changes: it is claimed they initially suggested themes that did not seem to allude to political parties or movements, but later changed the theme. -Breitbart

Italian daily La Repubblica reports that on May 2, Facebook opened a "war room" in Dublin in order to monitor the European elections full time - with 40 teams of engineers, researchers, scientists, threat specialists and experts for each country. Overall, 500 people are working on the elections, while being assisted by 21 "fact checkers" across 14 different languages. 

Coming to a 2020 election near you...