The discussion on the purported role of social media in governmental politics may become even more tense as Italian politicians have asked Facebook to tackle fake news in the country. Italy, which will soon carry out national elections in May 2018, is gearing up to address online propaganda that could be spread via social media and stop it in its tracks.
According to a report published by the New York Times on Friday, Italian political officials, such as Democratic Party leader and former prime minister Matteo Renzi, have asked the social network to help the country execute fair elections.
We ask the social networks, and especially Facebook, to help us have a clean electoral campaign. The quality of the democracy in Italy today depends on a response to these issues.
Renzi, according to The Times, has expressed a lack of trust toward Facebook as far as misinformation is concerned. Per the Times' interview, the political figure "partly" blames Facebook and fake news for his resignation that took place in December in 2016. The former prime minister's isn't alone in his distrust toward the social network. The oppositional party, known as the anti-establishment Five Star Party spearheaded by former waiter and now leader Luigi Di Maio, has also called on Facebook to address fake news and propaganda as the electoral season kicks in. Di Maio has asked the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to scrutinize the upcoming elections and evaluate the role of social media in politics. Although Renzi accuses Di Maio's party of maligning the Democratic Party online, Di Maio said that his own camp was a victim of misrepresentation and called for the OSCE to critically assess the situation.
On Facebook, both political figures have shared their thoughts on the platform and the potential spread of false information. "The issue of fake news exists and the monitoring of information and political debate by the OSCE during the election campaign is necessary. We have repeatedly experienced [...] what it means to be the subject of false news, I myself have also been the victim of the newspapers and news," Di Maio wrote on Sunday.
Renzi, too, shared a similar cynicism toward Facebook on the network on Nov. 24. While speaking of different reports on Facebook's fake news problem, Renzi wrote, "Some press inquiries show that there is a real fake industry in Italy with highly specialized social profiles in dissemination, fake news, [and] propaganda." Similar to Di Maio's language, Renzi said, "There are some who pollute the political debate on the web by spreading false news, just to discredit opponents. We know that because we are victims everyday."
In the United States, Facebook's inadvertent role in politics became much clearer long after the presidential election came to a close. In September, Facebook admitted to the Congress that it sold around 3,000 advertisements to around 470 fake profiles since 2015, according to a report published in The Washington Post. These ads pushed deeply divisive content about presidential candidates.
The network's head security officer, Alex Stamos, addressed the report in a press release on Sept. 6. Stamos said that the advertisement material bought by the fake accounts "appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights." Stamos also added that the network would be complying with the Congress to conduct a fair and transparent investigation.
Considering Facebook's role in American politics, it makes sense that Italians thousands of miles away are also wary of social media's influence on public and political opinion.