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Facebookers made into fans of Berlsuconi in post-attack row

Souvenir-chuck reaction prompts censorship fears

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Italian left-wingers claim a Facebook propaganda campaign has co-opted hundreds of thousands of users into groups supporting Silvio Berlusconi as he recuperates.

Yesterday, the Italian privacy commissioner was asked to investigate when Facebook users noticed they had mysteriously joined groups such as "We Support Berlusconi" and "Thank You Silvio", The Times reports.

Reaction to the attack on the Prime Minister and media baron has divided the nation, with his supporters taking to the web to wish him a speedy recovery, and his detractors applauding his alleged attacker, Massimo Tartaglia.

Berlusconi suffered a broken nose and two broken teeth when a metal model of Milan's Duomo was hurled at his face at a political rally on Sunday.

The government has signalled a potential action against social networking sites as a result. It said it would consider taking action to remove digital proclamations such as "We condemn all forms of violence, but the sight of Berlusconi's battered face is priceless" and calls for Tartaglia to be beatified.

The interior minister said online support for Tartaglia could prompt "a dangerous spiral of emulation".

"These are morally reprehensible messages inciting cowardly acts of violence against a popularly elected head of government," added Andrea Ronchi, the European affairs minister.

Opponents fear the Berlusconi government could be gearing up for a censorship crackdown online. The Prime Minister already owns much of Italy's media, which has supported him throughout a series of sex and corruption scandals in recent months.

Berlusconi himself has meanwhile sought a conciliatory tone this week. In a statement on his party's website, he said: "Everyone should stay calm and secure. Love always triumphs over envy and hate."

He has in the past suggested the internet should be more "regulated".

Facebook told Italian media it was monitoring groups discussing the attack for terms of use violations. ®

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