Italian conspiracy theorists thrive on Telegram

Misinformation and fake news are spread on Telegram as channels on the platform are steering the opinions of tens of thousands of Italians

Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, chosen by the channel Rinascimento Italiano as its symbol, holding the Telegram logo | Illustration by: Antonio Di Noto.

“Confinement, limitations to movement, and the suspension of all activities facilitating social life aim at forcing individuals into a bubble, where the prevalent feelings are claustrophobia and anguish”. This is what Weltanschauung Italia published this morning for his 3,827 subscribers. The outlet is defined in its description as “a cultural channel […] to counter-narrate the present time, distorted by the media” (Image 5). 

Telegram has the reputation of being highly secure. It also has a weak content moderation policy”, says professor Richard Rogers, of the University of Amsterdam. Therefore, in a year when the CEOs of Google, Facebook, and Twitter had to appear in front of the American congress to discuss their measures against misinformation and hate speech, Telegram, that in April 2020 announced to have reached 400 million users, has attracted groups of people who seek discreteness: Qanon believers, for example, but also Lukashenko’s dissidents in Belarus, as well as the all-Italian movement #IoApro: a collective of restaurant and bar owners who, the last 15th of January, ignored the closing times and the curfew imposed to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Weltanschauung Italia is part of a bigger network of channels, sharing each other’s material, and collectively counting more than 27 thousand subscribers (see the gallery for all the channels’ names and the number of subscribers). They all shamelessly share false information, and it is fairly easy to encounter them browsing through the app. One of them, Rinascimento Italiano, for example, as this article is being written, is spreading the false news that the proposed new premier, Mario Draghi, has been “chosen by globalists” to ignite the “Great Reset” (Image 2). Another narration perpetrated in the channel sees Covid-19 as a terrorist operation, which made the world elite gain 3.9 trillion dollars, like “a reversed Robin Hood” (Image 1).

Steering public opinion this way risks to cause an “accelerated radicalization” warns professor Rogers, since “conspiracy theories are a means of collective sense-making during information vacuums”. In other words, people are more likely to be manipulated in their opinions when they cannot quite find the key to their problems, and this phenomenon became apparent in 2020, when many already difficult situations were exasperated by the pandemic.

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