#ElectionWatch: Misleading Mentions Fire Up Italy

Fanpage.it reported on two controversial news stories circulating on Italian media this week

With only ten days left before Italians vote in nationwide elections, the electoral campaigns of the candidates are becoming more aggressive every single day. This week, two controversial stories circulated in the Italian press and on social media, one on former Prime Minister and current candidate for the Democratic Party Matteo Renzi and one the Five Star Movement.

Our partners at Fanpage.it reported on both.

On Tuesday Francesco Torselli and Giovanni Donzelli, two politicians affiliated with Fratelli d’Italia, shared a video on Facebook to denounce special driving permits that Agnese Renzi, Matteo Renzi’s wife, allegedly received from Mayor of Florence Dario Nardella. In the video, both politicians claimed that Mrs. Renzi received a permit, which allowed her to drive through all limited traffic zones, pedestrian areas, and park for free everywhere in the city — all things prohibited to any other citizen.

Translation from Italian: “Why does Renzi’s wife park for free anywhere in Florence? Watch the video and share!” (Source: Facebook / Vota Donzelli)

In the video, Torselli and Donzelli explained that they have followed the car of Mrs. Renzi and saw her leave her car in a normal parking spot without paying. They then go on and claim that, after conducting research, they found out that the Servizi alla Strada (SaS), the agency responsible for driving permits in Florence, granted Mrs. Renzi this privilege until September 2021 for “institutional security” reasons.

In the subsequent 24 hours after the article was published, the story was spread by several news outlets and raised a highly engaged debate, to the point that Matteo Renzi himself had to respond to the accusations on social media.

(Source: Facebook / Matteo Renzi Ufficiale)

In his post on Facebook, Renzi said:

Look at this picture. And wonder what levels bad faith can reach. Some right-wing politicians, instead of doing the job they’re paid for, have followed my wife for days. And then they took this picture of Agnese, who, driving back from school, is entering the Lungarno Diaz, next to the Uffizi. Some newspapers and many websites today jumped over the story. And they write: You see, the Caste? Renzi’s wife drive through preferential streets. Whoever knows Florence knows that — during the street works in these months — that street is the only way to get home, in Via Guicciardini. […]

[…] The same people also say that the Renzi family parks for free in Florence. To stay in Florence we rented (as many others who live in the city center) a spot in a parking garage. Paying, as everyone else. […]

On Wednesday morning, the story was labeled in Italian press as “fake news”. However, after Renzi’s post, the two representatives of Fratelli d’Italia published the document from Servizi alla Strada they cited in their video and stated:

Here is the evidence, it’s not fake news. We’re sorry for Renzi: this is not our version of what happened, but it’s written on paper by SaS, agency in charge of the road permits in the Florence Municipality, governed by his friend Nardella. They were the ones that explained to us why Agnese Landini [Renzi] can park for free around all Florence and drive freely through the pedestrian areas. A privilege that no other resident has. We do publish the documents.

(Source: Facebook / Vota Donzelli)

At ten days from the vote, this might seem like an irrelevant political issue but rather an attempt to throw shade against a competing candidate. Nevertheless, the @DFRLab will continue monitoring how the insinuation of “fake news” spreads in this case and the impact on the voting populace.

The second story referred to a fake poll falsely sourced to BBC, Der Spiegel, and Daily Star Lebanon that claimed the Five Star Movement was polling positively at 48.6 percent. The picture of the fake poll was posted last Friday, February 16, on the Facebook page of Dabovic Angelo Nedeljko and shared by 4,555 other accounts.

(Source: Facebook / Dabovic Angelo Nedeljko)

Fanpage.it verified that the same picture had already spread last March by social media accounts of people claiming to be affiliated with the Five Star Movement. Dabovic Angelo Nedeljko may prove to be a proxy account, as the user claimed to be from Belgrade, to have worked for the Movement, but his name doesn’t appear anywhere else online. Also, his account rarely achieved such significant engagement.

The image of the poll was clearly fake. As highlighted by Fanpage.it, “political poll” is not a typical English expression, and “Sent in Italy” doesn’t make much sense. The date “Febbraio 2018”, did not match with the English language used everywhere else in the image and clashed with the date of the poll, wihc was listed as March 8. Lastly, the names of the parties listed in the picture are outdated.

The @DFRLab will continue to monitor the elections in Italy with our partners at fanpage.it, as part of our #ElectionWatch series.


Anna Pellegatta is a Digital Forensic Research Assistant at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab (@DFRLab).

Our #ElectionWatch coverage for the upcoming Italian elections is in partnership with fanpage.it.

https://www.facebook.com/DFRLab/videos/2005843992763477/

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