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No Green Pass, No Vax and Negationists Groups: communication strategies

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In the last few weeks, from Rome to Milan, many people have started to take to the streets against  Green Pass. The latter has been contested as unconstitutional, antidemocratic and it has been  compared to a dictatorial tool of repression. Behind the protests, overrepresented though led by a  sparse minority, are the communication strategies and self-organization of groups, often with  infiltration by violent and neo-fascists. On the side, the tolerance of the vast majority of the  population already vaccinated. In the middle, the nature of social conflict in the sunset of Covid. 

Everything started on October 15th, when the Italian Government decided to make the Green Pass  certification mandatory for all the public and private employees, at least until December 31, date in which  the emergency state is supposed to finally end. 

Strong debates have arisen around this issue, both in the political arena, where the different parties have  taken sides, as well as in civil society, among workers and citizens from all the country. 

Although the vast majority of Italians have accepted the Green Pass and vaccination (more than 80% of the  population is now vaccinated), a small minority has raised the banners of protest.  

Despite being a minority, these groups have organized in recent weeks and have managed to force their  presence on the national media. Such overrepresentation may seem paradoxical. But there are a number of  reasons that can be given for it, first and foremost the silence of the now vaccinated majority. 

The dock workers of Trieste’s port have been the ones who rose up first and then, they’ve been joined and  supported by other different groups who are also against the Green Pass and/or negationists. 

In this cluster of protest several motives are mixed together. We must pay attention in particular, as  documented by some investigations, to the strong infiltration in these groups of people coming from  subversive extreme right-wing parties and movements. 

The apex of this season of conflict will probably remain the cowardly assault on the CGIL headquarters by  an unauthorized NoVax march, the 9th of October in view of the forthcoming enactment of the measure  requiring mandatory vaccination in the workplace. CGIL is the main national union in Italy and has been  targeted because it is judged to be in agreement with the government’s policies on compulsory vaccination in  the workplace. 

With a few tens of “professionals of violence” mixed with a much higher number of ‘common’ people,  moved only by the desire to express their dissent against a measure considered liberticidal, this heterogeneity  has complicated the management of public order in the last month. Some of them say that they don’t want to  take part of a “massive experiment”, while others just want to rise up against the current Government supported by a creaking cross-party majority and its decisions. There’re also some old hippies who just  dream and ask for freedom. However, many are protesting because they do not have a job, many have  measured themselves (perhaps) only with precariousness. They don’t have many arguments, only the desire  to break everything. 

Thus, there are different people in those protests, coming from different background, culturally as well as  economically. An interesting fact is the average age which ranges from 40 to 60. 

Particularly interesting is also the information and communication strategy used by these groups. What

they  have in common is the use of information channels such as Facebook, in which there are lots of unofficial 

pages where it’s possible to find fake scientifical information and Telegram groups. The latter is very  popular because it allows people to chat and talk, hiding their identity because their phone number is not  needed to sign in. 

In these chats there are No Green Pass and Negationists outburst, advertising and unbased/ fake information and green certifications. 

Usually, they use persuasive storytelling through misinformation and disinformation, and they prefer a  dramatic and emotionally involving language. In fact, some researchers found out that false news are  designed like novels and people are more likely to share and read novel information than the truth.  

For several days, the picture of thousands of people crowded on a bridge, went viral on Social Networks  after British politician’s tweet.  

The bridge was supposed to represent the one of the Trieste port and the manifestants were supposed to be  the dock workers.  

The fact that it was published first by a foreign politician, allowed Negationists to feel even more supported  and powerful. Anyway, shortly after, this picture has been denied: it was taken in 2018, during a Street  Parade in Zurich, Switzerland. Other Facebook pages that act as censors of fake news, debunking the news  going around the web, have played a significant role here. Their activity should be commended and  followed. Indeed, to counter the spread and belief in fake news, action from below is important. The fact that  the denial of the fake news comes from the official media, so called mainstream, does not ensure a  disproving power. Instead, if other pages of journalists and civic activists take on the task of fire-bombing  the disinformation campaigns on social networks promoted by groups that are not always disinterested  (indeed, often maneuvered by hidden interests), it is the writers’ conviction that the effectiveness is greater. 

Diethelm and McKee (2009), have recognized four factors which distinguish a negationist speech:  1. They build it on some conspiracy theories;  

2. They refers to fake scientists or experts just to contradict their “enemies”;  

3. They create unrealistic expectations;  

4. Absence of apparent, quantifiable, and observable facts. 

Certainly, Internet play a main character role: the big quantity of information and the absence of preventive  filters and quality checks, support the development of negationist groups activities.  

In order not to fall into the danger of the chaotical information and communication system, it’s crucial to  relay on good and certificated sources. But how is it possible to recognize them? The whole trick is to pay  attention, for example, to: the name of the website, the objectivity of the news, the address of the office and  last but not least take a look at the graphic layout. 

The manipulation tactics promoted by negationists and subversive groups need to be responded to with  decentralized strategies from below. And this is where the role of civic journalists seems to be as necessary  as ever.Eleonora Coiante: She studied communication sciences and is currently graduating in Applied social sciences at La Sapienza University in Rome. Her field of interest is education and training systems, in  particular pre-school and early childhood education. She is currently working at ERIFO as a intern.

Title photo: Mauro Ujetto/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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