The Local, May 13, 2019
Facebook has shut down multiple Italian pages spreading misinformation, hate speech and political propaganda in the run-up to the European elections.
“We have removed a series of false and duplicate accounts that violated our authenticity policy, as well as several pages that changed their names,” Facebook Italy said in a statement on Sunday.
“We also took action against some pages that repeatedly spread incorrect information,” the social network said.
The move came in response to a complaint by Avaaz, an international network of social activists, which said it reported multiple accounts to Facebook at the beginning of May for suspected breaches of the platform’s rules on transparency, spam and incitement of hatred.
A total of 23 pages with 2.46 million followers combined were shut down last weekend, according to Avaaz, which said that more than half of the accounts supported either of Italy’s two ruling populist parties, the League or the Five Star Movement.
They included a pro-Five Star page that attributed false statements to the writer Roberto Saviano, a prominent critic of the coalition government, as well a pro-League one that shared a video purporting to show violence by migrants that was in reality a clip from a film.
As well as spreading misleading content on migration, vaccinations and similarly charged issues, other abusive practices documented by Avaaz included creating a page on a non-political topic, then converting it to a political one without warning once it had built up a large number of followers, as well using what appeared to be general “lifestyle” pages to spread links from misinformation websites linked to the far right.
As well as the 23 pages taken down, Avaaz said it had identified another 80 Italian pages with some 16 million followers that it suspects of violating Facebook’s policies. They are part of coordinated networks seeking to sow “hatred and divisions” ahead of Europe’s parliamentary elections at the end of May, the campaign group alleges.
“We are committed to protecting the integrity of elections in the EU and the entire world,” Facebook’s statement said.
The social network recently introduced new rules on political advertisements in a bid to boost transparency during the EU election campaign, while ahead of its general election last year Italy became the fifth country to get a built-in fact-checking feature that warns users when misleading content appears in their Facebook feed.