Facebook has shut down 23 major populist Italian pages with 2.5 million followers just two weeks before the European elections.

According to Italian media, the majority of the pages supported the populist parties La Lega (The League) and the 5-Star Movement (M5S) — who currently govern Italy in a temporary coalition.

Facebook has justified its dramatic move by claiming that the sites shared fake news, so-called “hate speech”, and “divisive content” regarding immigrants, vaccines, and Jewish people.

“We have removed a number of fake and duplicate accounts that were violating our authenticity polices,” the social network said Sunday. 

Facebook used information from a report produced by a left-progressive NGO called Avaaz, which deals with “human rights” and environmental campaigns.

Avaaz said the pages had about 2.5 million followers, and more than a dozen of the pages supported rightwing and populist parties.

“This is more proof that lies designed to sow hate and division in our societies are being spread deliberately on social media ahead of the EU elections,” Avaaz campaign director Christoph Schott said.

Facebook’s efforts in Italy to influence the European elections are just the tip of the iceberg, Italian media noted.

According to the Italian daily La Repubblica, on May 2 Facebook opened a “war room” in Dublin devoted full time to the European electoral campaign, with 40 teams of engineers, scientists, researchers, threat specialists, and experts for each country.

There are 500 people working on the elections, with the assistance of 21 supposed “fact-checkers,” operating in 14 different languages.

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