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Riots flop as Italy’s far right takes election fight to Facebook

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An anti-fascist demonstration on Feb. 10, 2018 in Macerata, Italy in response to the assault on immigrants by extremist Luca Traini. (Jacopo Landi/NurPhoto/Sipa USA/TNS)

ROME — Italian authorities braced for the worst Saturday, deploying riot police across the country in anticipation of far-right street fighters wreaking havoc on marches by anti-racists and anti-fascists.

But then the far right largely failed to show. Instead of taking to the streets, it took to Facebook.

Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Brothers of Italy party, broadcast from the campaign trail via Facebook Live a few times over the weekend. In one video from Milan, she pointed at discarded syringes, denouncing heroin dealers “who for the most part are illegal immigrants.” In another she visited a restaurateur who shot and killed a Romanian thief last year. He faces a relatively minor charge of excessive self-defense, according to Italian media.

And in response to Saturday’s marches, Meloni posted a video of anti-right protesters hitting a policeman who had fallen to the ground.

The pivot to Facebook is by design, in part, by Facebook itself. On Thursday, the social network announced it was introducing tools to support “civic participation” in Italy’s March 4 elections.

The effort includes a “Points of View” box that pops up on Italian Facebook users’ pages with policy information solicited from any political party with more than 1 percent support in polls. The box also provides links to the parties’ Facebook pages.

The social network will also broadcast candidate interviews, it said in the statement Thursday. Meloni will be a guest Monday in the first installment, alongside a candidate for the Green party, from Facebook’s Italian headquarters, news agency Ansa said.

Meloni’s online efforts haven’t hurt. Her party gained more than any other in an Istituto Ixe poll published Sunday, rising half a percentage point to 4.8 percent, its best showing in the poll since early January.

The rival, anti-establishment Five Star Movement dropped by that same amount, to 28.3 percent, in the polling period that ended Wednesday.

In coming weeks, Meloni’s influence may grow. Brothers of Italy is part of a center-right coalition, led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, which has the largest share of voter support, according to recent polls.

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