Italy is, at this point, a poster child for successful anti-establishment, aka “populist” forces in Europe, those who have managed to come to power. The nation’s March 2018 general election resulted in a government formed by one such alliance, forged by the 5 Star Movement and the center-right Lega.
It was a turn of events that at the time stunned the EU’s establishment, aka “elitist” forces in Brussels, and now, ahead of the European Parliament (EP) elections later this month, the Italian brand of populism is coming under renewed pressure online.
Facebook said the decision was made in order to protect “the integrity of the EU elections,” now only two weeks away. For this purpose, Rome daily La Repubblica is quoted as reporting, the social media behemoth has set up “a war room” in Dublin that brings together engineers, various types of experts, and “fact-checkers” in 14 languages, covering each of EU’s 28 member-states.
As for the Italian pages that have been removed, the company found them to be guilty of sharing “fake news, hate speech, and divisive content” concerning migrants and minorities.
Facebook could easily end up undermining the election campaigns of Italy’s top parties, including that of Lega, who is currently leading in Italian opinion polls ahead of the EP vote.
Facebook has been under sustained and heavy scrutiny of the EU over its business practices, and has, along with other major US tech giants, agreed to “voluntarily” police content leading up to the elections – or face EU regulation.
The decision to act against the 23 popular Italian pages is likely a part of this effort. In any case, the company based its decision on a report compiled by the NGO Avaaz, promoting issues like human rights and climate change, whose policies Breitbart says are left-wing.
The Avaaz report named a total of 14 Italian networks with 104 pages and six groups, reaching 18.2 million people. And Facebook acted quickly: the report, that it “investigated” before making the decision, was given to it Avaz on May 3.