Italian National Elections Misinformation Tracking Center

Chronicling the top myths spreading online about the Sept. 25, 2022, vote.

By Sara Badilini, Virginia Padovese, and Giulia Pozzi

Produced in collaboration with Facta, NewsGuard’s IDMO (Italian Digital Media Observatory) partner. 

Last updated: Sept. 24, 2022.

Following Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s resignation in July 2022, the Italian government announced that Italy would hold an early general election, on Sept. 25, 2022. NewsGuard, along with Italian fact-checker Facta.news, one of its partners at the Italian Digital Media Observatory (IDMO), a project funded by the European Commission, has since been monitoring and reporting on the top myths surrounding the vote that have spread on Italian social media and on news sites.

For the first several weeks after the election was announced, NewsGuard did not find a spike in election misinformation. However, as Sept. 25 approached, especially in the final few weeks of the campaign, NewsGuard uncovered a spate of false or misleading election-related narratives. The false and misleading narratives NewsGuard has identified include:

  • Myths about alleged fraud in the mail-in ballots to vote from abroad. 
  • Myths misrepresenting political parties’ platforms and agendas, politicians’ statements, and polling data.
  • Myths about the functioning of the electoral system.

This page includes summaries and debunks of the election-related myths identified by NewsGuard’s team of journalists, who will continue to track false and misleading election information, including after the election.

Top myths about the Italian National Election

Myths about alleged fraud in the mail-in ballots to vote from abroad

MYTH: The fact that Italian voters living abroad cannot vote for some anti-establishment parties is proof that the vote for the Italian 2022 election is rigged.

Social media users have shared a video showing an Italian woman living in Spain who received the mail-in ballots to vote from abroad. The woman complained that the ballots did not include the icons of two anti-establishment parties running in the election, Italexit and Vita. 

Some social media users suggested that the clip was proof that the election is rigged. For example, a Facebook user wrote, “Would you participate in a cycling race knowing that all competitors have electric bikes and you [have] a pedal tricycle without the front wheel? Wouldn’t it be more logical to avoid joining a rigged race? Well if you are an Italian living abroad you will not be able to vote for anti-establishment parties, simply because they are NOT present on the ballots!! Therefore they will also lose all votes from abroad. The table is rigged!!! THIS IS AN ACCLAIMED DICTATORSHIP!”

Similar claims have been made by the Red-rated sites VisioneTv.it and GreenPass.news, which misleadingly described the requirement of collecting signatures from voters as “electoral fraud.”

It is true that the ballots for those voting abroad do not provide the chance to vote for the two parties. However, this is not proof that the election is rigged or that Italy is an “acclaimed dictatorship.” The symbols of the anti-establishment parties are absent because both Italexit and Vita did not manage to gather enough signatures from voters to be allowed to run in the Overseas Constituency, as required by the Italian law, Facta reported. Both Italexit and Vita are on the ballots for domestic voters.

MYTH: The electoral envelope for Italians abroad includes a flier for the Democratic Party.

In September 2022, social media users shared a video showing a man examining the content of an envelope that he had received from the Consulate General of Italy in Switzerland in order to vote from abroad. 

The video shows the man extracting from the envelope voting papers and a flier urging people to vote for two members of the Democratic Party (PD), Andrea Crisanti and Toni Ricciardi. A Facebook user who shared the video wrote, “Great! Those residing abroad receive the envelope to vote with Crisanti PD’s holy card.” 

There is no evidence that envelopes sent to Italians living abroad have included electoral fliers for the Democratic Party. The site of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, which lists the contents of the electoral envelopes for Italians voting from abroad, makes no mention of the presence of advertising fliers for any of the parties running in the election. 

Moreover, as noted by Facta, the video includes some inconsistencies. For example, the envelope captured in the clip had already been opened when the recording started, meaning that the flier could have been added at a later time. Additionally, the man who shot the video stated that the envelope was sent to his partner, a woman, but a document shown in the footage features the name of a man.

Luciano Vecchi, the head of the Democratic Party’s department for Italians living abroad, stated that the video was “the result of clear manipulation,” adding that claims that the consular authorities in Switzerland and the party itself were responsible for sending advertising materials to Italians voting from abroad were “clearly unsubstantiated.”

The same claim was shared by the Red-rated site LaVoceDelTrentino.it, which stated that “The envelope of the voting papers also included a flier that urges voting for the head of the Senate list Crisanti (the virologist) and Ricciardi at the Chamber with PD.”

Myths misrepresenting political parties' platforms and agendas, politicians' statements, and polling data.

MYTH: Data from Italian polling institute Ixè shows the Five Star Movement only three points behind Giorgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia.

In September 2022, a Facebook post published by a group called “Tele TV 5 Stelle,” which supports the Five Star Movement, claimed that according to new polling data from Ixè, a well-known Italian polling institute, the Five Star Movement was only three points behind Giorgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia, which was poised to win the election. The post also stated, “We are approaching a great overtaking, let’s share the videos of the demonstrations with [Five Star Movement’s leader Giuseppe] Conte, they do not show them on TV, all the people must know that it is possible to win and we will win.” Another Facebook user shared in a comment a graphics with Ixè’s logo, which showed the Five Star Movement at 21.9 percent.

In fact, the image was digitally altered from real polling data published on Sept. 6, 2022 by Tecnè, another Italian polling organization, Facta reported. The real data showed the Five Star Movement at 11.9 percent, not 21.9 percent.

MYTH: Writer Roberto Saviano said, “If the center-right wins, I will live abroad forever.”

In August and September 2022, social media users shared a picture of popular Italian writer Roberto Saviano, attributing to him the statement, “If the center-right wins, I will live abroad forever.”

There is no record of such a statement from Saviano, according to Facta.

On Aug. 30, 2022, Saviano said on Facebook and Instagram that he never said that he will live abroad forever if the center-right wins. The writer, who has lived for over 15 years under police protection for his work about organized crime in Italy, wrote, “Despite never having released such a statement, the community that supports Fratelli d’Italia spams this meme to send a clear and precise message. … In fact, several times in recent years I have found myself – like many – in the need to expatriate in search of a less besieged life, it is a real pain to leave one’s homeland to be able to live, but the Fratelli d’Italia’s supporters do not even realize that.”

MYTH: Former Minister of Agriculture Teresa Bellanova said, “If the center-right wins on Sept. 25, I believe I will leave politics to move abroad with my husband.”

In September 2022, social media users shared a picture of Italian Senator Teresa Bellanova, Italy’s former Minister of Agriculture and a member of former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s party Italia Viva, attributing to her the following quote: “If the center-right wins on Sept. 25, I believe I will leave politics to move abroad with my husband.”  (As of Sept. 20, the posts appeared to no longer be online.)

In fact, there is no record of such a statement from Bellanova. As Facta noted, on Sept. 13, 2022, the Italian senator refuted the claim in a Facebook post, stating, “A fake news is circulating online, namely that I intend to leave the country if the right wins in the next election. Whoever is peddling this nonsense doesn’t know me. Never thought of leaving Italy for such a circumstance. And above all, the victory of the center-right in these elections has never been taken for granted.”

MYTH: The Democratic Party proposed a law to accept pedophilia.

In late August 2022, social media users shared an image of a text of a law accompanied by a caption claiming that the Democratic Party (PD) “is attempting to make pedophilia accepted as a ‘possibility’ of relationship between people and to criminalize the discrimination of a pedophile.” 

The image shows the text of Amendment 1.5, which was presented to the Senate during the discussion around Bill 1052, which is aimed at reducing homophobia and transphobia. The image features a highlighted section stating that the law aims to punish those who spread ideas intended to harm “the safety, the dignity, and the decorum of people who show, both openly and not, homosexual, bisexual, heterosexual, and pedophile orientation.”

In fact, Bill 1052 was presented to the Chamber in 2013, and the amendment was not presented by the Democratic Party, but by Popolo della Libertà, a former center-right party. Moreover, the amendment shown in the photo has been replaced by a new version that does not include the word “pedophile.” (One of its proponents, then-Senator Carlo Giovanardi, said that he had meant to include “pedophobia,” not “pedophilia.”)

A similar claim was shared by the news site LItaliaMensile.it, which claimed that “The regime parties are attempting to make pedophilia acceptable as ‘a possibility’ of relationship between people and to criminalize discrimination against pedophiles. …”

MYTH: The Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) party wrote in its most recent electoral program that it wants to reconsider Italy’s membership in the European Union.

Starting in late July 2022, Italian social media users shared a picture purportedly showing the electoral program of Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy), a national right-wing party. One of the paragraphs of the program stated that the party wanted to reconsider “all the EU treaties, starting from the fiscal compact and the Euro.” 

However, as noted by the Italian fact-checker Pagella Politica, the photos do not show Fratelli d’Italia’s electoral platform for the September 2022 election. Rather, it is an older document, released in the run-up to the 2018 Italian general election, stating the party’s priorities at that time. 

Other users shared a photo of a statement saying that young people “will no longer be able to choose whether to work or not but they will be bound to accept the job offer for themselves, for their family and for the country, under penalty of loss of all benefits with the application of a penalty system.” This passage was also not part of the party’s latest platform, although it was included in a document that the party released in May 2022. 

Fratelli d’Italia released its official electoral program on Aug. 30, 2022. The party’s platform does not mention the reconsideration of the European treaties and the Euro. In fact, it states that it wants to make “Italy the protagonist in Europe” again. The platform also proposes to “promote the training and integration of young people into the world of work” by “relaunching, with adequate safeguards, the instruments of the apprenticeship contract and internships … strengthening the system of post-diploma courses for job placement; promoting training within STEM subjects.” It says nothing about preventing young people from choosing their own careers or imposing penalties. 

MYTH: Surveys show the Five Star Movement at 29.5 percent, not at 11 percent, as falsely reported by the press.

In late August 2022, social media users shared an image showing false electoral polling data for five political parties. In the image, the Five Star Movement (M5S) was shown ahead of all the other parties, at 29.5 percent of the vote. One Facebook user wrote, “To all the scum televisions out there, Shame on you for falsifying and hiding from the Italian people what is really happening.”

In fact, in late August 2022, all the main polling data showed the M5S party at about 11 percent. 

As noted by Facta, the image did not include any information about the polling organization that had allegedly produced the data, the sampling criteria, and other details prescribed by the Italian National Journalists Association’s Information and Survey Chart

MYTH: Democratic Party Senator Monica Cirinnà said, “The concept of family is fascist, we will re-educate the children of the obscurantists.”

Social media users have shared a graphic that attributes to the center-left Democratic Party Senator Monica Cirinnà the following quote: “The concept of family is fascist, we will re-educate the children of the obscurantists.” 

The image, which started to circulate on social media in 2019, misleadingly mixed some old remarks made by Cirinnà. In 2019, the senator sparked debate in Italy for participating in a protest holding a sign that read, “God, Homeland, and Family… what a sh**** life” (“God, Homeland, and Family” is a popular fascist motto). As reported by Open.online, a few weeks later, she clarified in a TV interview, “That sign picked up a fascist motto … So bringing the [public] discourse about family back, going back to those concepts, in my opinion is wrong.” 

The second half of the quote misrepresented Cirinnà’s words during a March 2019 interview with Italian newspaper La Verità. She stated, “Public school has to help you if you have had the bad luck of being born into one of those obscurantist families,” referring to the need, in her view, to teach “sex education, and education on gender violence” in school. 

MYTH: A video shows Fratelli d’Italia’s leader Giorgia Meloni laughing during an interview about an anti-homophobia law.

In August 2022, social media users shared an altered video showing Fratelli d’Italia’s leader Giorgia Meloni during an interview at the popular TV talk show “Maurizio Costanzo show.” In the clip, the host reported the news of two men who had been beaten because they were kissing, and he stated that “it is time to pass this law against homophobia.” The video shows Meloni answering with a laugh. 

In fact, Meloni did not laugh at the host’s words, as the footage of the original program shows. The video clip had been altered for satirical purposes by the TV program Propaganda Live back in 2021, when the Italian Parliament was discussing a law that aimed to punish homophobia, Open.online reported

MYTH: A video shows immigrants coming to Italy on a boat because former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte offered jobs to thousands of young Africans.

In August 2022, social media users shared a video comprised of old clips with altered subtitles, showing immigrants on a boat purportedly saying, among other things, that they are coming to look for “Italian girls.” The final clip apparently shows then Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte – now president of the Five Star Movement — saying that he wants to solve the immigration issue by offering a job to “thousands of young Africans.” 

However, the subtitles of the first clips are inaccurate, Italian news outlet Open.online reported. For example, the clip that users claimed showed immigrants making comments about “Italian girls” actually showed men thanking God for arriving safely in Italy and thanking their parents for praying for them.

The clip featuring Conte was taken out of context from a longer video published in 2019. Contrary to the claim that Conte was saying he wanted to offer jobs to thousands of young Africans, the then-Prime Minister was speaking about “Project Africa,” an initiative launched by Italian multinational oil and gas company ENI and by Coldiretti, the largest Italian association representing agriculture. The project aimed to create an agricultural supply chain in Ghana. 

MYTH: Silvio Berlusconi said that “If the right wins, Mattarella has to resign.”

On Aug. 12, 2022, the Italian Democratic Party (PD) shared a tweet accompanied by an image of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The graphics, which cited Italian newspaper La Repubblica and included its logo, attributed to Berlusconi the following quote: “If the right wins [President of the Republic Sergio] Mattarella has to resign.” The same tweet was shared by other social media users.

However, the quote included in the tweet is not accurate as it misrepresented Berlusconi’s statement. As reported by Open.online, the original headline published by La Repubblica partly read, “Berlusconi: ‘If presidentialism passes, Mattarella has to resign.’” 

Berlusconi did not say that if the right-wing coalition wins the election, President Sergio Mattarella “has to resign.” Referring to a constitutional reform that is being proposed by the right-wing coalition that would change Italy from a parliamentary system to a presidential one, he stated, “if this reform was to enter into force, I think that Mattarella’s resignation would be necessary to directly elect a new president, who, coincidentally, could be him.”

MYTH: Italian singer Vasco Rossi publicly declared his support for the Five Star Movement.

In late August 2022, Italian social media users shared an image showing popular Italian singer Vasco Rossi with Chiara Appendino, the former mayor of Turin, of the Five Star Movement. Some users claimed that Vasco Rossi had publicly endorsed the Five Star Movement. For example, an Aug. 27, 2022, Facebook post stated: “Our great Chiara with Vasco Rossi also Vasco Rossi supports the 5 Star MoVement he said it’s the only party that I trust blindly Come on guys.”

In fact, the photo was taken in June 2018, when Appendino, at the time the mayor of Turin, met with Rossi ahead of Rossi’s concert in Turin, Facta reported. There is no evidence that Rossi publicly endorsed the Five Star Movement at the time, nor is there a record of such an endorsement since then.

Although in previous years, Rossi stated that he agreed with some of the Five Star Movement’s proposals, he has never explicitly endorsed the Five Star Movement, according to Facta. 

In 2019, Italian Senator Gianluigi Paragone — at the time a member of the Five Star Movement — used a popular song by Rossi titled “There are those who say no” in one of his campaign videos. In response, the singer wrote in an Instagram post that “there are those who use my songs for their political and opinion campaigns… I want it to be clear that I do not authorize anyone to do so and as far as possible I try to prevent it. … Much less can you think that I agree with the opinions of those who use my music to clarify their confused ideas!!”

Myths about the functioning of the electoral system

MYTH: The Italian elections have been scheduled for Sept. 25 to allow members of Parliament to receive their annuities.

Soon after the announcement of the Sept. 25 election, news sites and social media users falsely suggested that Italy’s early election day had been chosen to allow the members of Parliament on their first term to become entitled to their annuities (“vitalizi”), which they would not be eligible to receive if the election was scheduled a week earlier. 

In fact, since a 2012 reform, the “annuity” system no longer exists for parliamentarians, having been replaced by a pension system, similar to that in force for public employees. Based on this system, lawmakers who have served in Parliament for at least four years, six months and a day, and who are 65 or older, are entitled to their pension. For each additional year of office, the age threshold is lowered by one year, up to 60.

Based on the Constitution, it is the formation of the new Parliament — which can happen within 20 days from the vote — that determines the end of the parliamentary term, not the election date. As a result, parliamentarians would have been eligible to receive the benefit if the election had been scheduled a week earlier. 

MYTH: On Sept. 24, 2022, the day before election day, a new decree will come into force that imparts special powers to the Prime Minister. 

In September 2022, social media users claimed that the Official Gazette of the Italian Republic, a journal that publishes acts and decrees from the Italian Parliament and the President of the Republic, announced that a new decree conferring “special powers” to the Prime Minister, would become effective on Sept. 24, 2022. A Twitter user commented, “Probably it’s a coincidence, but I point out that it is the day ahead of the elections.” 

A similar claim was advanced by Red-rated news site ImolaOggi.it in a September 2022 article headlined “Official Gazette: Decree-law confers special powers to the Prime Minister.” The story stated, “The date of entry into force is inexplicable, the day before the political vote, and it is even more inexplicable how the special powers that are not defined in any way will be exercised. The situation poses a very serious political alarm and is of absolute gravity.”

However, the decree mentioned in the tweet does not confer new “special powers” to the Prime Minister. According to Facta, it adds regulations to a preexisting decree, approved in 2012, which gave the Government the so-called “golden power” — meaning the power to oppose or add conditions to corporate transactions and foreign direct investments involving “strategic” assets for the Italian Republic. 

The August 2022 decree mainly aims to streamline processes and procedures established by the law and includes norms to “coordinate the preparatory activities for the exercise of the special powers entailed by the golden power.” 

MYTH:  Using a “protest register,” voters may force the President of the Republic to “send away all politicians” 

In a video that circulated on Facebook in August 2022, a man sitting behind a desk claimed that a 1957 Italian law created a so-called “protest register,” which he described as an option for voters who, as a sign of protest, intend to go to the polls without casting their ballot. He said that by voting for the supposed “protest register,” voters would join a list that, after reaching 50 percent plus one of those entitled to vote, would force the President of the Republic to “send all politicians away.” He also claimed that for ballots that were returned without an actual vote, that ballot would be counted for the majority party. 

It is not true that if a voter returns a ballot without voting, that would be counted as a vote for the majority party. If a voter declines to vote, the president of the polling station – an officer that oversees the voting and counting processes – collects the ballot and declares it invalid, as established by Article 62 of Presidential Decree n. 361/1957

Moreover, there is no evidence of the existence of a “protest register” that could force the President of the Republic to “send all politicians away.” As Facta noted, the 1957 Presidential Decree mentioned above established that officers at the polling station are required to record any complaints from voters in the electoral district minutes. A 2013 prefecture notice clarified that if a voter refuses to vote, the officer can officially include “the voter’s complaints and their refusal to receive the ballot in the electoral minutes, provided that the minutes are made in a concise and quick manner. …” 

These procedures are not proof of the existence of the “register” described in the video, which does not exist in the Italian law.

This report was produced in collaboration with Facta’s team of journalists, who helped identify and debunk election-related myths as they emerged on sites and social media.