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Italy: Popular Social Media Accounts To Be Treated As Publishers, Face “Misinformation,” “Hate Speech” Restrictions

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In what can be seen as an open clampdown against the freedoms and rights of social media influencers, the Italian Regulatory Authority of Telecommunications (AGCOM) has announced that people with a following exceeding 1,000,000 will now be legally considered as “producers of audio-visual content” within the law, placing them on the same legal footing as publishers.

This drastic change was revealed in the aftermath of an investigation conducted into Chiara Ferragni, a notable adversary of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Italy’s most prominent social media influencer, regarding alleged fraudulent activities tied to a holiday cake charity event.

An investigation ensued after customers were allegedly misled into thinking their purchase of a pandoro cake, promoted by Ferragni and made by the Piedmont company Balocco, contributed to a Turin hospital’s charity.

Investigations for severe fraud are underway against both Ferragni and Alessandra Balocco, the company’s chief. Additionally, Balocco faced a €420,000 ($459,841) penalty from the competition regulator for deceptive practices. Prior to the campaign, Balocco donated €50,000 ($54,000) to the hospital but did not contribute any more funds. Sales of the cake, endorsed by Ferragni, reportedly generated £1 million.

Despite already being in development prior to the situation, the timing of these new laws aimed at treating those with large followings as publishers has raised eyebrows, as they mainly target noted influencers of Ferragni’s nature and are now open to regulatory scrutiny.

Currently, influencers within Europe implementing influencer-marketing strategies are perceived not as media organizations but as sellers or traders. However, AGCOM intends to widen this viewpoint, likening these influencers to TV, marketing agencies, and publishers, thereby imposing greater responsibility for all kinds of content they produce.

This new classification increases the legal and reputational hazards influencers face when publishing material.

Under the new regulations, influencers are compelled to clearly distinguish sponsored content and ads, with penalties reaching up to a quarter-million euros for non-compliance. Violations concerning child protection could warrant penalties exceeding half a million euros. Even non-commercial content produced by influencers must adhere to anti-discrimination regulations and uphold various standards currently imposed on traditional media creators, such as abstention from disseminating “misinformation,” “hate speech,” or promotion of “harmful” behavior like excessive alcohol consumption.

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