Italy warns Facebook to get its house in order

The country which bought us Mussolini, Berlusconi and the Mafia has told Facebook to sort out online brown-shirts, crime and hate-speech.

The president of Italy’s lower house of parliament said, warning that rising abuse on various social media was being fueled by fake news.

Laura Boldrini who has been targeted by sexist insults and online threats, complained to Facebook managers in November about hate speech on the social network and put forward several proposals on ways to deal with the problem.

They did what they always do – ignored the complaints. In fact two months after the meeting they have not even bothered to write back.

She said she would write an open letter to Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg this week reiterating her call for a more effective and timely policing of his site.

“His platform risks becoming home to dangerous predators … the company has to take responsibility for this,” she said.

In a statement, Facebook said it was committed to battling hate speech and fake news, and was working closely with various institutions in Italy to deal with cyber bullying.

Facebook, Twitter, Google’s YouTube and Microsoft agreed last May to an EU code of conduct to tackle online hate speech, pledging to review most valid requests for removal of illegal abuse within 24 hours in Europe.

A December report from the European Commission said only 40 percent of hate speech was being reviewed within 24 hours, with wide variations from country to country. In Italy, just four percent of hate posts were being removed within a day, the report said.

Boldrini is the third most senior official in Italy behind only the president and the president of the upper house Senate. She is daily deluged with abuse and in November published a selection of the offending comments.

“Boldrini, you are a handicapped whore,” says one. “Why has no one killed this terrorist,” says another.

Boldrini, a former spokesperson for the United Nations Refugee Agency, said many of those who abused her on Facebook had been spurred on by malicious, fake news articles about her.

Despite flagging such insults to senior Facebook managers, many remained on her homepage, she said.

One of her requests was for Facebook to open a full office in Italy to deal with its 28 million users in the country. At present, Italian complaints are handled at the company’s European headquarters in Ireland, but Boldrini said the firm had not told her how many of its employees there spoke Italian.

Some of the fake news stories claimed that she supported migrants getting housing before locals, that Italian women should wear the veil or that her long-dead sister was making money from migration.

“Fake news and hate go together. It is not being done as a joke. They are looking to discredit their adversaries. It is short-circuiting democracy,” she said