Italian right-wing leader says Facebook blocks his personal page

ROME (Reuters) - Matteo Salvini, leader of Italy’s anti-immigration Northern League party, said on Thursday Facebook had blocked his personal page for 24 hours because he used the word “gipsy” in posts.

Northern League party leader Matteo Salvini speaks on stage during a rally in downtown Rome February 28, 2015. REUTERS/Max Rossi

Salvini, who is trying to establish himself as a contender to lead Italy’s fractured opposition against centre-left premier Matteo Renzi, frequently lambasts foreigners in an appeal to anti-immigrant sentiment which has grown during three years of economic recession and stagnation.

The bearded 42-year-old has posted messages this week about Nigerians, Roma and other east Europeans in Italy, prompting abusive responses from followers including suggestions immigrants should be shot or burned alive.

A Facebook spokeswoman said there was a temporary block on Salvini’s page because it violated Facebook policies around “hate speech”. Facebook did not mention the word “gipsy” or the Italian equivalent, “zingara”.

Salvini complained on Thursday that the social media site had expressed disapproval over the appearance on one of his two profiles of the term.

He uploaded to Facebook and Twitter a video of a well-known song called “Zingara” by Italian singer Iva Zanicchi, asking if Facebook would block that too.

“Facebook blocked my personal profile for 24 hours because of the presence of the words “zin*ari” e “zin*are” in two posts. This is madness!” Salvini wrote on a profile.

Once a junior partner in several governments headed by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, the League’s popularity had steadily diminished until Salvini took over in 2013.

Its support has more than doubled since, but a poll released by research firm EMG this week showed support recently slipping for both the party and Salvini himself. Another poll by the Piepoli institute showed the party’s popularity had stabilised.

In a televised interview earlier this week, Salvini said camps housing Roma people, mainly from Eastern Europe, that occupy the peripheries of Italian cities including Rome, should be razed.

Additional reporting by Gavin Jones; editing by Andrew Roche