The Crazy World of Italian Politics on Social Media

Italy’s general election provided ample material for a popular new Twitter account. We spoke to its founder.

As Italians headed to the polls on the last Sunday in September, the leader of the far-right Fratelli d’Italia party Giorgia Meloni caused a stir on social media when she circumvented a ban on election day campaigning.

Posting a TikTok video in which she held two melons in front of her chest, the presumed next prime minister of Italy winked into the camera as she said: “25 September. I have said it all.” The video was a reference to her surname which means “melons” in Italian and is also slang for breasts.

Seen as hilarious by some, crude by others, Meloni’s cheeky video was perhaps a fitting end to an electoral campaign that saw Italian politicians make ever wilder and more bizarre use of their social media channels.

Capturing these moments, one by one, was a newly formed Twitter account called “Crazy Ass Moments in Italian Politics”. The founder, a 34-year-old from northern Italy, spoke to Nemo about the journey that has seen him reach more than 66,000 followers in a matter of months.

Choosing to stay anonymous, he introduces himself as “just a man with a cellphone and an internet connection having some fun on Twitter”. He set up the account in March after “falling in love” with a similarly titled page devoted to the absurdities of American politics. Realising that so-called clone pages were being created for other countries, he decided to “seize the moment” and open the Italian version.

Comedy gold

While convinced that he would never be left lacking in terms of comedy gold, he could not have foreseen the plethora of material coming down the tracks. When Mario Draghi’s national unity government fell in July, it sparked a highly-charged election campaign with politicians tripping over themselves in a bid to out-do each other on social media.

Crazy Ass Moments in Italian Politics was ready for them and, significantly, captioned each post in English. The Italian founder admits that using English can be problematic “especially when explaining certain contexts that are difficult for a non-Italian to understand” but says it helps to reach audiences outside Italy as well as letting Italians see their politics with new eyes. “Perhaps in this way things appear more entertaining than they already are”, he adds.

One-man army

Clocking up hundreds of new followers each day, the independent Twitter venture is run by a “one-man army, a man who divides his time between work, family and now politics”. He keeps his political views to himself, maintaining a “neutral” stance and even poking fun at politicians he has voted for in the past. “I keep my perspective as detached as possible” – he says – “My policy is not to make concessions to anyone.”

In the quieter days of the spring, the account gained appeal for its quirky and concise posts, such as an old video of Matteo Salvini, leader of the rightwing Lega party, blowing “kisses to a bunch of cows for absolutely no reason”.

Then came an unprecedented summer election campaign which provided rich pickings for the account even during the usually sleepy Ferragosto holiday. So what were the highlights of the past months?

“Definitely” foreign minister Luigi Di Maio re-enacting the famous “flying” scene from the Dirty Dancing movie in a Naples restaurant. Then there was Enrico Letta, leader of centre-left Partito Democratico (PD), who was left stranded after the battery died in his electric-powered campaign van.

And how could we forget Peppa Pig? “A member of Fratelli d’Italia railed against the famous children’s cartoon because there is a character with two mothers, and +Europa’s response was ‘We are on Peppa Pig’s side’. You have to see it to believe it”, he says.

Asked what the biggest social media surprise was during the election, he singles out the “sudden debut” of so many politicians on TikTok in a desperate bid to woo young voters. Silvio Berlusconi, the 86-year-old leader of the centre-right Forza Italia, boasted of “record numbers” after launching himself on the social media platform whose name he pronounced with a clock-like “tick tock” of his head.

Translating politicians’ messages into English often guarantees an extra chuckle. The leader of the centrist Azione, Carlo Calenda, kicked off on TikTok with the message: “I can’t dance because I look like a drunk bear. I can’t give you make-up advice because I am fat and ugly. But I can talk to you about politics”.

Who are Italy’s most media-savvy politicians? The mystery man behind Crazy Ass Moments in Italian Politics is quick to nominate Salvini and Berlusconi: “They are unbeatable, real bosses”.

Winners and losers

In terms of who succeeded and who failed on the social media front during the election campaign, he says it’s hard to say but believes in the old adage that “there is no such thing as bad publicity”.

He cites as an example Letta’s pro/con campaign, in which voters were given a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ option and invited to choose. Somewhat inevitably the concept became a meme which, he suggests, was “in its own way a success”. It was hard to tell reality from satire when Letta shared a carbonara meme based on his own campaign, urging people to always choose guanciale over pancetta.

Now that the election is over and it’s down to the serious business of forming a government, does he think politicians will continue to use TikTok or was it just a summer fling? He has already noticed a “drastic” drop in TikTok activity in the days since the election but his guess is that politicians will keep the platform to “cultivate potential new voters, in the long run”.

“If they are smart they will continue to use it, and improve their performance” – he says – “If they abandon it then it means that they did not believe in it enough or that, deep down, they did not care.”

Followers

So who follows Crazy Ass Moments in Italian Politics? Most followers are Italian, with “around 30 per cent foreigners, often journalists or political writers”. The account registered a spike in non-Italian followers, he says, after Politico.eu suggested following the page to stay up-to-date on Italy’s elections.

And what about the future? “My goal is to expand my audience abroad as much as possible” – he says – “After all, the things you see in our political landscape, in what other country do you see them?”

By Andy Devane

This article is published in the October 2022 online edition of Nemo magazine. Cover photo ANSA.