How Matteo Salvini is generating populism with online competition
With only eighteen days left before Italians vote in nationwide elections, candidates began a final push ahead of the polls. Online and social media efforts have played a central role throughout the campaign season, not only as a platform to communicate directly, but also due to the engagement impact of social media and digitally native news to shape the voters’ opinions and, therefore, political debate.
In Italy, some parties attempted to exploit this social trend more than others. @DFRLab previously reported on how the nationalist Lega party invited its supporters to turn their accounts into vehicles for automated party messaging, or “selfbots”. Now Lega politician Matteo Salvini is incentivizing social media engagement through competition aimed at generating organic — rather than automated — support. Increased engagement, whether likes, comments, or shares, ensures each of Salvini’s messages edges up in each platform’s search or promotion algorithms, thus reaching more voters.
Last week, Salvini launched this new campaign. With the slogan “Vinci chi? Vinci Salvini” (translated from Italian: “Win whom? Win Salvini”), the leader of Lega turned to the web to help him spread the message. In a video released on his website and social media handles, Salvini explained the rules of the “Vinci Salvini” contest.
According to the advertisement, the winner is referred to as a “captain”, the “captain” receives a phone call from Salvini, and their photo is shared on all of Salvini’s social media profiles. To win, supporters must log on to salvinipremier.it with their Facebook account, actively monitor Salvini’s Facebook page, and like as many posts as possible as quickly as possible. Doing so will earn the contestant points; the supporter with the most points by the end of the day wins.
The four weekly winners get to meet Salvini in person “for a coffee and a video.” The videos are shared on his Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube channel.
The list of all winners, either daily or weekly, is featured on Salvini’s website.
On February 8, in the post dedicated to the winner of the previous day, Salvini noted that in less than two days the contestants already numbered more than 15,000.
The highest achieving follower from February 9, named Giacomo Daniele, posted a screenshot with the daily ranking of the contestants, which was available on salvinipremier.it only to the contestants registered. Giacomo’s post showed that two days after “Vinci Salvini” was launched, he was competing against 5,188 other Lega supporters and won by collecting 3,050 points.
The campaign website, Salvinipremier.it, somewhat explained how the ranking system for the contest worked. The first ten people to like a post gained 500 points, the subsequent 90 people received 250 points, and so on.
Unlike Salvini’s previous social media campaigns reported by the @DFRLab in the article “Italy’s Self-Made Bots“, in this case the followers’ accounts are not used to share automated content. However, motivated by the chance to win and to be rewarded with fame on social media and an in-person contact with their political leader, the Lega supporters de facto turn themselves into “likes-machines”.
The contest will expire the day of the Italian elections on March 4, and it remains a clever tactic. On one hand, the contest engages genuine supporters with meaningful contact and the opportunity to participate in Lega’s campaign. On the other hand, the contest incentivizes engagement by a concentrated group of voters makes that group look larger online than it likely is in the real world, as well as baits algorithms to spread the message.
This online community, as well as the “selfbots” already recruited by Salvini and his party, will likely continue to grow after the vote and remain a potent political amplification tool.
The @DFRLab will continue monitoring the situation in Italy in the lead-up to nationwide elections on March 4.
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