Representations of Italian Populism and Immigration on Facebook: A Comparison of the Posts by Luigi Di Maio and Matteo Salvini (2014-2018)

  • Gilda Sensales Sapienza University of Rome
  • Gabriele Di CIcco Sapienza University of Rome
  • Conrad Baldner Sapienza University of Rome
Keywords: Social representations, populism, immigration, social media, textual analysis


The investigation is located within a research program which, using different triangulation models, explores the representations of Italian populism. In our case our interest is centered on social media. Although social media are the preferred vehicle of populist communication, their role has only begun to be studied in recent years. We are part of this new attention by focusing on both the communication and its impact on followers of two populist leaders, the politically transversal oriented Luigi Di Maio, and the far-right oriented Matteo Salvini. In line with what is stated by the theory of social representations, our starting point is that language is opaque and capable of promoting and directing inferences through specific linguistic markers. Our study focuses on how the immigration issue and populism are represented on Facebook by the two populist leaders. Thanks to data and methodologies triangulation models, their posts were analyzed for their language patterns and followers' approval. We noted a greater focus on immigration by Salvini; his immigration posts were also widely popular among his followers and more negative, compared to those of Di Maio. For Salvini the results are indicative of a radical-right-wing "angry-populism" characterized by a charismatic leadership strongly opposed to immigration. On the other hand, Di Maio's populism appears more nuanced on this subject and with less involvement of followers.

Free standing papers