Facebook bans Italian populist pages ahead of EU elections

The social media giant Facebook has banned 23 noteworthy Italian populist pages with 2.5 million followers just two weeks ahead of the highly anticipated European elections.

The vast majority of the 23 pages that were banned supported Italy’s currently governing coalition made up right and left wing populist parties La Lega (The League) and the 5-Star Movement (MS5), Italy’s La Stampa reports.

Facebooks cited ‘hate speech’ and ‘divisive content’ regarding vaccines, immigrants, and Jewish people as justification for the drastic move.

Apparently, the tech giant’s decision to ban these pages was informed by a report which was created by a leftist NGO by the name of Avaaz, which claims to focus on environmental campaigns and what they regard as ‘human rights’.

A spokesperson from Facebook commented, saying, “We thank Avaaz for sharing its research so we could investigate…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,” the spokesperson added.

In Avaaz’s report, which was presented to Facebook earlier this month, the NGO claimed that it had discovered 14 Italian networks operating on social media platform which included 104 pages, 6 groups, with a reach of more than 18.2 million individual users.

Of these networks, actions taken by Facebook this week targeted 23 of its pages – totaling nearly 2.45 million individual users and 2.44 million interactions over the past three months.

On top of this, Facebook has also apparently ‘weakened’ pages that it has arbitrarily deemed to be spreading content containing ‘fake news’ – presumably limiting their visibility to Facebook users.

Facebook asserts that its primary motivation for banning these pages was that the page creators had initially chosen page themes which didn’t cite any involvement with political parties or movements, but which had later switched the themes.

Included among the banned pages are ‘Lega Salvini Premier Santa Teresa of Riva’, ‘We want the 5-Star Movement in government’, which had 129,000 followers and nearly 700,000 interactions in just three months, ‘Lega Salvini Sulmona’ — which had 307,000 followers –  ‘We Are 5 Stars’, as well as ‘Beppe Grillo for President’.

Facebook’s most recent efforts in Italy to influence this May’s European elections are only the tip of the iceberg, according to Italian media.

Earlier this month, Facebook opened up a ‘war room’ in Dublin, Ireland with 40 teams of full-time engineers, researchers, threat specialists, scientists, and experts for each country who devote their efforts to the European electoral campaign, according to the Italian La Repubblica.


Apparently, there are 500 individuals working on the elections, with the help of 21 so-called ‘fact checkers’, working in 14 different languages.