Don’t expect fair play on Twitter, Facebook

The electoral campaign in Italy will be more and more about tweets and Facebook posts, up to the very last moment of the next May European elections. A non-stop influence activity will be thus be exerted on all Italians with voting right, despite the pre-election silence foreseen by the national legislation.

The European Parliament and the European Commission decided to work together to avoid misleading information on the internet in order to make the next European elections not manipulated or voting-oriented, but the possibility given by the national legislation in Italy will give open space to everybody to express himself in any way.

Very old legislation, no update

The Italian law on elections was approved in 1956, it was first reformed in 1975 and then in 1984. The problem is that the internet and all the social media we have today didn’t exist when the legislation was drafted and then changed. So, the pre-election silence doesn’t apply to the new electronic platforms, since none specific prohibition is foreseen.

According to the Italian legislation, “the day before the elections and the days established for the elections it is forbidden” to promote the political debate. It applies for “rallies, direct or indirect electoral propaganda meetings, in public places or open to the public, new posting of printed matter, murals or other newspapers and propaganda posters”.

Furthermore, the Italian rules on elections and electoral campaign “in the days devoted to voting, all forms of electoral propaganda within a radius of 200 meters from the entrance to the electoral sections are prohibited”.

Regulatory vacuum still there

In 2018 the Authority for Communications Guarantees (AGCOM), the competition authority for the communication industries in Italy, tried to fill the regulatory vacuum issuing a vademecum where it was written that the provision of “all forms of electoral propaganda are prohibited” should be intended as applicable “also to platforms”. But the vademecum is not a legislative text, so it has neither legal nor binding force. 

Hyperactive Salvini

The regulatory vacuum is a problem for the European Parliament. The leader of The League, Matteo Salvini is hyperactive on social media. The emblematic example was his tweet sent the day of the local elections in Sardinia, few days ago. Salvini directly invited Italians to vote for his party, using even the expression “today I vote for the League” as hashtag for his short message. Furthermore, the tweet contained a short video with an extract of a public electoral rally.

Salvini didn’t breach any law, since there are no laws. He basically found the legal way to bypass the national restrictions to the illegal electoral campaign. Of course, as minister for Home affairs he should refrain from certain behaviours, but it is not in Salvini’s nature.

The Italian juridical situation, combined with people like Salvini, is an explosive mix for the European Union. Salvini will keep talking to Italian until the very last moment thanks to twitter and Facebook. Of course, since everybody nowadays has a smartphone, Salvini’s tweet will be readable even inside the electoral sections.

While the European Parliament will stop its communication activity in those EU member states where pre-election silence is foreseen, Italian politicians will keep tweeting and so on. The major problem is the narrative offered to voters. As already said on this blog, the political parties currently ruling the Italian Republic are never accurate when they talk about EU affairs. In time of fake news, last-minute unchecked tweets can feed a negative sentiment among the over 51 million voters in Italy.

The pro-EU side is expected to stick to the rules, and this is why the eurosceptics will use every opportunity to hijack social media on the eve of the vote. 

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