The Italian arm of Amnesty International said it would be tracking comments posted amid concerns verbal and physical violence is on the rise under Italy's populist government.
The global advocacy organisation is asking candidates across Europe to become more involved in issues such as climate change, women and LGBT rights, and migrants and refugees. But its Italian arm is bringing in people trained in spotting “hate speech” to see whether those running — from nationalist leader Matteo Salvini to the descendants of dictator Benito Mussolini — promote racial or other discrimination.
“We have launched a control on how and to what extent human rights are entering the debate online,” said Martina Chichi.
The country's intelligence agency warned in February that attacks on migrants and minorities could rise in the run-up to the EU elections.
Photo: Sebastien Bozon/AFP
Italy has lurched to the right under its populist coalition government, which since June has united Salvini's anti-immigrant League with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S).
The League has soared in popularity on the back of Salvini's “Italians First” message, but he has dismissed critics who accuse him of whipping up a climate of hate. His approach to the migration crisis — which has included closing Italian ports to charity vessels that have rescued people in the Mediterranean — has been blamed by some for a rise in xenophobia.
Amnesty said a computer program will collect 100,000 messages from the candidates' Facebook and Twitter accounts — their statements as well as a random sample of comments from users — and carry out a content evaluation.
Gianni Rufini, director of Amnesty International in Italy, told a press conference in Rome that “hate speech is spreading and has contaminated ways of thinking too”.
“Today we no longer just hate migrants or ethnic Roma, we also hate people who say that these groups have the same rights as others,” he said. “Solidarity is being criminalised”, Rufini added, denouncing “a serious step backwards in human rights around the world” in recent years, with “an increasingly ephemeral border between verbal violence and physical violence”.