Far-Right Leader Thanks Facebook for Strong Election Results in Italy

Matteo Salvini, the head of the far-right political party the League, says he is ready to become Italy’s next prime minister—and he’s thankful to Facebook for his rise to prominence.

“Thank god we have the internet, thank God we have Facebook,” Salvini said as the results of Sunday’s elections came rolling in. Salvini claims his party was able to run a successful political campaign due to its savvy social media skills and online presence, which allowed the party to avoid the backlash from negative mainstream media coverage.

Salvini may be overconfident, however. No political party won enough seats in Parliament to claim a majority, meaning that Italy’s politicians will be forced to launch negotiations to form a governing coalition. The negotiations are likely to drag on for weeks, if not longer.

But the far-right, anti-immigrant League did have a strong showing in the elections, winning just over 17 percent of the vote. It came in third place, after the left-wing populist Five Star Movement and Italy’s Democratic Party.

927150406 Leader of Lega Nord party Matteo Salvini votes in the Italian General Election at a polling station on March 4, 2018 in Milan, Italy. Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images

And because the League will likely form a coalition with Forza Italia, a center-right party led by the octogenarian media mogul and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Salvini could wind up in the premiership. In this case, Italian politics could swing far to the right, and Salvini’s anti-immigrant and euroskeptic agenda could potentially become official policy.

Salvini’s comments about Facebook come at a time when countries around the world are analyzing the impact social media ads and campaigns can have on electoral politics. Still, it’s unclear exactly how much of a role the internet played in Sunday’s elections. Only around 60 percent of Italians use the internet, according to a July 2017 report by the communications regulator Agcom, making Italy the European Union member with the second lowest rate of internet use.

Nevertheless, around 92 percent of people between the ages of 14 and 34 use the internet. And many analysts believe the internet has been a boon for Italy’s populist and euroskeptic parties. The populist Five Star Movement, which garnered the largest number of votes for any one party, with almost 33 percent, was originally formed by a popular blogger. Some have also attributed Five Star’s success to a behind-the-scenes internet entrepreneur named Davide Casaleggio, who runs the party’s web platform.

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