When a passenger on a Trenord train in northern Italy judged the actions of a train conductor as questionable and published a report of the incident on his social media profile and an Italian website, he didn't expect to have to contend with 42,000 hate messages and threats to his life.
But that's what happened when Raffaele Ariano, an Italian philosophy researcher, took offense to a message announced to passengers on a Milan to Mantova train on Tuesday August 7th by the train's conductor.
"Passengers are asked not to give money to these harassers. Get off, you're pissing people off. Gypsies: get off at the next stop, because you're busting people's balls," the female conductor of the train reportedly told passengers through the train's internal communication system, according to Italian daily Repubblica.
It remains unclear what exactly spurred the announcement, although no violent incidents were reported on the train.
When Ariano published a post on his Facebook profile denouncing the aggressive tone of the train conductor, the Lega – Salvini Premier Facebook page published a link to Ariano's own Facebook profile, asking readers: "Are you with the train conductor or the denouncer, Raffaele Ariano?"
The link to Ariano's Facebook profile is no longer active, but it was active long enough for supporters of the La Lega political party and other right wing groups such as CasaPound to pile abuse and threatening messages on the Italian citizen's social media page.
Ariano told Corriere della Sera he had received 42,000 messages containing "insults and threats."
"The train's conductor should receive an award," later commented Italy's Interior Minister Matteo Salvini in a Facebook post on Lega - Salvini Premier.
Ariano's mother has now intervened, calling on Italian President Sergio Mattarella to guarantee her son's constitutional rights in the face "of hundreds of physical threats."
Annamaria Abbate said that her son had simply questioned the incident by the public servant but "what followed was a real media lynching by supporters of La Lega and neo-fascist groups like CasaPound and Forza Nuova, containing insults and threats to the physical safety of my son and our family," wrote the concerned mother. She added that the family's home address had been published in several posts.
"So I ask myself: can it be tolerated that the page of a political party whose secretary is also minister of the interior intentionally promote such a campaign of hatred?" wrote Annamaria Abbate, Raffaele Ariano's mother, in an open letter to Italy's president published on news outlet Articolo 21 on August 13th.
"Is it tolerable in a state of law that a private citizen's safety can be threatened by actions attributable to the minister responsible for the order and security of all citizens?" she added.
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini dismissed the whole incident as the family "seeking publicity" and insisted the train conductor's actions were justified. The train company acknowledged the "serious incident" by one of its staff and is investigating the matter.