ai used be far right in italian elections

Kandl Studio/Adobe Stock Matteo Salvini/Instagram (Licensed)

EXCLUSIVE: Days before EU elections, Facebook is failing to flag inflammatory AI ads

The ads have racked up over a million views.

 

Gabriele Di Donfrancesco

Tech

An Italian far-right party is utilizing Facebook and Instagram to push AI-generated images, part of an inflammatory social media campaign days before the upcoming European parliamentary elections.

The images, which include a pregnant man styled to look like Jesus, people in traditional Arab clothing burning Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” and a fictional European soldier who looks like French President Emmanuel Macron, are designed to stoke outrage in support of one of Italy’s furthest right parties. 

The AI images promote the homophobic and Islamophobic views of the Lega—a member of Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s ruling coalition.

The Lega party is fighting against immigration, LGBTQ rights, and further integration with the EU, all in “defense” of “true” Catholic values.

The images, over the past few weeks, have been shared by party head Matteo Salvini on his official Instagram and Facebook profiles.

The Daily Dot examined Lega’s campaign, running the images through a popular AI detector, and found at least six posts used articifial intelligence image generators.

Lega and Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, did not respond to the Daily Dot’s requests for comment.

The posts are yet another example of AI used to stoke outrage past the bounds of reality, painting controversial, discriminatory acts as facts. 

The Lega party is a small, but vocal player in Italian politics, mostly thanks to the late Silvio Berlusconi, who often included it as an ally in his coalitions.

Lega has shrunk in popularity over time, going from 17.3% support in 2018 to just around 8% today.

But it still carries weight as part of Meloni’s ruling coalition and knows how to draw attention to its revanchist views. 

The most controversial AI image in a pregnant, bearded man eerily reminiscent of Jesus, mocking trans people “woke madness.”

“Yes to moms and dads!” it adds. “For MORE ITALY and less Europe”

The image references Lega’s opposition to a European proposal for the recognition of the parenting rights of same-sex couples.

Though seemingly promoting hate speech and discrimination, Lega put an ad spend behind the post, dropping $4,000 to garner over one million impressions on Facebook.

The ads come days before the European Parliament elections, where member states pick representatives to send to Brussels. The voting this year is particularly fraught, amid a general political shift to the right, a regional war with Russia, devastating inflation, and rising pressure from climate-change-driven extreme events.

And Salvini’s party is leading the push from the right. His top candidate is an openly homophobic army general, Roberto Vannacci, famous for a best-selling self-published book full of racial slurs. 

The pregnant beard man sits next to a happy heterosexual family, a fixation of Salvini. In 2019, when he was Italy’s Interior Minister, he signed a decree introducing the words “father” and “mother” on the IDs of children, replacing the previous “parent.” 

It took until this year for a lesbian couple to invalidate the decree after dragging him to court.

In 2021, Salvini also helped kill a bill to curb homophobia, ableism, and misogyny in the country. 

And now, after the Lega helped Meloni secure a majority in Parliament, it has worked with her coalition to erode LGBTQ rights in the country, making couples seeking surrogacy abroad criminally prosecutable, removing the name of the non-biological parent from the birth certificates of children of same-sex couples, and reducing access to gender-affirming care.

Ironically, the pregnant Jesus image backfired, offending Catholics who make up most of Lega’s support.

The image also became a source of pride for progressives, who shared it as an alternative version of nativity.

On Instagram, where Salvini has 2.3 million followers, the post received over 22,000 comments, with a varying sentiment, mainly negative. 

Other AI-generated images of the campaign included eerie fictional European soldiers, like the Macron visage, compared with colorful and reassuring Italian soldiers, criticizing the joint EU effort in Ukraine.

Lega opposes further support for the war against Russia and was even accused of trying to solicit funds from the country in 2018.

A more inflammatory post shows AI-generated people in traditional Arab clothing burning Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” a historic Italian tome. 

“Obscurantist and violent ‘cultures’ that invade Europe, trampling on traditions and founding values, ‘taking offense’ at the milestones of Western civilization? No thank you,” the post said, a reference to recent reports that a teacher exempted some middle-school children of Islamic faith from studying the poet.

Salvini has a long record of Islamophobia. When he was Interior Minister, he refused to rescue immigrants at sea and grant the asylum—he is undergoing trial for that—and opposed simplifying access to Italian citizenship to second-generation immigrants.

Not every image was designed to stoke outrage against a populace though. In one, Lega took aim at an environmental regulation designed to eliminate waste from plastic bottles.

According to Dino Amenduni, a political campaign counselor, AI in politics is still in its nascent stage in the country. 

“AI is certainly already massively used to draft texts and press releases that are then manually refined by campaigners,” Amenduni said to the Daily Dot.

Another expert contacted by the Daily Dot underplayed the risk of Salvini’s AI efforts, calling it the “botched work” of a possibly low-level staffer.

But it highlights the current lack of regulation around it. 

In Italy, legislation on electoral campaigns does not even take social media into account. “It’s stuck in the 80s,” Amenduni says.

This year, the EU passed an AI Act experts considered quite robust. But it does not cover certain specific issues, like limiting the use of AI in election.

“Ironically, platforms could have stricter laws on the matter than countries,” Amenduni says. 

Meta pledges to label images that use AI to warn followers, but Matteo’s have not been flagged. 

And with the votes days away, it shows just how easily the efforts can escape moderators grasp. 

“We are nearing a moment,” Amenduni said, “in which voters won’t be able to tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not.”


The internet is chaotic—but we’ll break it down for you in one daily email. Sign up for the Daily Dot’s web_crawlr newsletter here to get the best (and worst) of the internet straight into your inbox.

Share this article

*First Published:

 
The Daily Dot