It takes a village to manipulate the media: coordinated link sharing behavior during 2018 and 2019 Italian elections

Giglietto, Fabio; Righetti, Nicola; Rossi, Luca; Marino, Giada
Information, Communication & Society

Over the last few years, a proliferation of attempts to define, understand and fight the spread of problematic information in contemporary media ecosystems emerged. Most of these attempts focus on false content and/or bad actors detection. In this paper, we argue for a wider ecological focus. Using the frame of media manipulation and a revised version of the ‘coordinated inauthentic behavior’ original definition, the paper presents a study based on an unprecedented combination of Facebook data, accessed through the CrowdTangle API, and two datasets of Italian political news stories published in the run-up to the 2018 Italian general election and 2019 European election. By focusing on actors’ collective behavior, we identified several networks of pages, groups, and verified public profiles (‘entities’), that shared the same political news articles on Facebook within a very short period of time. Some entities in our networks were openly political, while others, despite sharing political content too, deceptively presented themselves as entertainment venues. The proportion of inauthentic entities in a network affects the wideness of the range of news media sources they shared, thus pointing to different strategies and possible motivations. The paper has both theoretical and empirical implications: it frames the concept of ‘coordinated inauthentic behavior’ in existing literature, introduces a method to detect coordinated link sharing behavior and points out different strategies and methods employed by networks of actors willing to manipulate the media and public opinion.