Facebook closes Italy pro-government fake news pages: rights group

Rome (AFP) –


Facebook has closed 23 mostly pro-government pages in Italy which were spreading fake news and anti-immigrant content, after an investigation by Avaaz, the civil rights group said on Monday.

More than half of the pages, which had a total of almost 2.5 million followers, supported the far-right anti-immigrant League party or the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which form the ruling coalition, Avaaz said in a statement.

The most active page translates as "We want the Five Star Movement in government" which had shared a quote wrongly attributed to anti-mafia writer Roberto Saviano that he would "prefer to save migrants than Italian earthquake victims."

Saviano was forced to publicly deny having said it.

A pro-League page shared a video which it wrongly said depicted migrants smashing up a police car.

The footage was in fact filmed for a movie, but was viewed almost 10 million times, days ahead of next week's European parliament elections in which Italian populist parties hope to do well.

"This is more proof that lies designed to sow hate and division in our societies are being spread deliberately on social media ahead of the EU elections," said Avaaz's Christoph Schott.

"Facebook has done a good job in taking these pages down, but it says a lot that a multi-billion dollar company is relying on a crowd-funded Avaaz investigation to defend Europe?s democracy. Facebook need to do more, and they need to do it fast."

Avaaz also noted the practice of "recycling followers" used by some supporters of the two ruling parties, whereby a page with non-political content changes its name to become political or partisan, retaining likes and followers.

One such page "was started as an agricultural breeders? association of the Messina province and eventually became a League-supporting local chapter. The change was made one word at a time, gradually, using the ambiguity of the word 'League' to avoid the automatic checks carried out by Facebook," Avaaz said.

Facebook and other social networks are regularly accused of not doing enough to eliminate fake news from its platform.