Facebook Is Said to Increase Fake News Safeguards for Italy Vote

(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc. is intensifying scrutiny of its pages to root out bogus news reports and other attempts to interfere with Italy’s general election in March, according to people familiar with the matter.

The U.S. company will allocate more resources to ensure users comply with its guidelines during the election campaign, two people said, asking not to be named because the decision isn’t public. Facebook could block pages or take down websites if they detect violations.

“We have a large team working to support the integrity of elections around the world and the elections in Italy are a high priority for them," Laura Bononcini, Facebook Italy Head of Public Policy said in a statement. Facebook will ensure political parties and relevant authorities in Italy can contact the company to report any activity that they believe breaches Italian law or Facebook’s Community Standards, she said.

The anti-establishment Five Star Movement is leading in the polls ahead of Italy’s March 4 election after harnessing the resentment of many voters over years of sub-par growth and declining living standards. The ballot takes place amid mounting concerns about the potential for social media abuses to interfere with the democratic process.

Last year, Facebook disclosed a Russian effort to spread content, much of it false or from fake accounts, that drummed up political tension in the U.S. around the 2016 presidential election. The company faced Congressional scrutiny after revealing that those posts reached an estimated 150 million people, and it vowed to help prevent other similar situations around the world.

The Spanish government detected Russian hackers attempting to bolster separatism in Catalonia last year and Facebook already stepped up its efforts to ensure the integrity of its content during recent elections in Germany and France. During the German campaign, the company removed about 30,000 pages.

In Italy, Five Star’s emergence has been driven by sophisticated online operations that reached a generation of voters who felt abandoned by traditional parties. All the same, polls project the party will fall short of an outright majority and the country may face a period of gridlock with a hung parliament.

Facebook Is Said to Increase Fake News Safeguards for Italy Vote

In that scenario, former premier Silvio Berlusconi may hold the the best cards, with his three-party alliance set to be the biggest bloc, even though Berlusconi himself is barred from holding public office.

Facebook said Wednesday that it is widening an investigation into possible Russian meddling in the U.K.’s 2016 referendum on leaving the European Union, fueling the debate about how far social media platforms are open to abuse during election campaigns.

Facebook has about 30 million subscribers in Italy, according to the company.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.