• Report

Italy Antivax Disinformation Report

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“ViVi per un mondo Libero”

Violent Italian conspiracy group harasses politicians and spreads vaccine disinformation in blatant breach of Facebook rule. Read the summary here or download the full report below for citations and images.

Overview

Vivi (or Guerrieri ViVi, literally “Living Warriors”) is an Italian anti-vax conspiracy group that has been active both online and offline since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Through coordinated efforts on Facebook and Twitter, the group – whose name is inspired by V for Vendetta – mobilises harassment campaigns against pro-vax politicians and seeks to organise violence and vandalism. Individuals involved in the movement have been prosecuted by the Italian authorities for a host of reasons, including vandalising vaccination centres, running harassment campaigns against pro-vax politicians, and threatening politicians and doctors.

Although the movement’s social media profiles were reportedly taken down by Facebook in December 2021, this report finds that the ViVi movement continues to engage in large-scale coordinated inauthentic behaviour on the platform – raising questions about the effectiveness and consistency of Meta’s self-reported intervention. The objective of the coordinated harassment campaign identified by our analysis is seemingly twofold: to suppress and intimidate pro-vax voices, and to recruit followers of the Facebook Pages to ViVi’s Telegram channels that contain instructions
for “joining the fight” (including a voice call with a ViVi “warrior” and financial incentives for vandalising official buildings or political party offices).

Such activity, in our view, violates several of Facebook’s community standards. In its terms of service, Meta claims that the company does not allow recruitment efforts on behalf of dangerous organisations or individuals, and its stated policy is to remove misinformation about vaccines. When Meta’s policies against spam and harassment are also taken into account, the company’s decision to allow the ViVi movement to continue operating on the platform appears even more questionable. With examples of Italian political parties self-censoring by deleting their Facebook content after being “literally inundated with comments from fake profiles”, and ample evidence of associated offline harms, it is imperative that Meta take action to address this issue. The next Italian general election is less than a year away, and Covid-19 numbers are rising again as Europe heads into the second half of 2022. The time is now for social media companies to step up and take stronger measures to prevent the spread of vaccine disinformation and associated violent ideologies.

Key Findings

ViVi Activity on Facebook

  • An analysis of user comments on 48 public Facebook pages affiliated with Italian political parties and politicians revealed a seemingly coordinated harassment and spam campaign consisting of over 15,000 pieces of content authored by the ViVi movement. The Facebook Pages of Partito Democratico, Articolo UNO, and Italia Viva were the most frequent targets of ViVi’s violent behaviour.
  • The content at issue was designed to suppress and intimidate pro-vax voices, as well as recruit new followers to Telegram channels that contain instructions for various offline ways to “join the fight” (including incentives for vandalism).
  • The largest portion of the text-based content disseminated by ViVi accounts on Facebook compares the Italian Government to a “Nazi Regime” because of its pro-vaccination policies, while also misrepresenting climate change as a “hoax”.
  • Coinciding with a peak in ViVi activity on Facebook, the movement launched a “ViVi challenge” on 1 April 2022. The Telegram-based challenge financially incentivized users to paste banners or graffiti with slogans containing anti-vaccination messages on official buildings such as hospitals. Vandalism cases involving ViVi movement graffiti were subsequently reported across the Italian media.
  • In our data sample of content authored by the ViVi movement, we identified 110 unique messages that were duplicated more than ten times on Facebook (with the most frequently duplicated comment being posted at least 577 times).
  • The harassment campaign forced certain political pages to remove their pro-vaccine posts or turn off comments on their posts. At least one political party page also shared visual evidence that their local office was vandalised by members of the ViVi movement.

ViVi Activity on Twitter

  • Across 28 public political Twitter pages in Italy, we found 396 profiles involved in seemingly coordinated harassment and spam campaigns totalling over 6,613 tweets authored by the ViVi movement.
  • Similar to the patterns observed on Facebook, most of the analysed Tweets contained links to ViVi’s Telegram channel or Facebook Group.
  • More than half of the analysed accounts were created in December 2021. Given that the coordinated harassment campaign began in January 2022, this finding suggests the bulk of involved Twitter accounts were set up specifically to carry out the targeted campaign.
  • Several hashtags were used in conjunction with the coordinated harassment campaign by the ViVi group on Twitter, including #novax, #GovernoCriminale, #DraghiVattene, #Draghistan, and #DittaturaNazisanitaria. As was the case on Facebook, the movement’s primary messages were anti-vax and anti-government.

To see the full report with images and citations please download the pdf version of the report below.

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  • Italy Antivax Report