“The great Cardinal Biffi, for many years Archbishop of Bologna, argued that we need to prefer (regular) immigration from countries that are closer to our history and our civilization.” With these words, sent in a tweet on 2 January 2020, Italian politician Matteo Salvini expresses his positions on migration. The tweet exemplifies several narratives that are connected to religion and that are frequently spread by Salvini through his social media accounts: the protection of the so-called “Judeo-Christian” history and heritage, the opposition to immigration, and the perceived threat that non-Christian migrants (Muslim migrants in particular) pose to “Western” civilisation. Hence, Matteo Salvini is known for spreading hateful discourses against Islam and migration online (Il barometro dell’odio, 2019). His party, Lega Nord, holds several characteristics of the global populist far-right (Mudde, 2019), and he often praises political leaders such as Boris Johnson and Donald Trump. Salvini self-identifies as Catholic and uses social networks to circulate pictures of himself praying, holding a rosary, or visiting religious places (Marchetti et al., 2020). While the majority of the Italian population self-identify as Catholic, religious commitment is declining (Introvigne & Zoccatelli, 2021), and it is uncommon for a political leader to publicly display religiosity. This chapter will use the example of Salvini’s Twitter account to discuss how online political discourses often employ religion to kindle hateful debates and support an extremist political agenda. In particular, I would argue that this type of narrative contributes towards, and is the consequence of, a climate of post-truth politics.

In the contemporary political landscape, online conspiracy theories and instances of misinformation and disinformation are often connected to religion, but they have not yet been thoroughly analysed in relation to religious discourses (Douglas, 2018). According to Lazer et al. (2018), misinformation and disinformation are types of false information that are unintentionally or intentionally spread. The circulation of false information results in “post-truth,” which was declared the 2016 Word of the Year and is defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief” (Oxford University, 2019, as cited in Boler & Davis, 2020, p. 2). My argument is that “objective facts” become less influential not only because of the circulation of discourses that are openly false, but also because of claims that are incomplete, misleading, or unverifiable. This follows Conrad’s (2021) argument that right-wing populists employ the spreading of both inadvertent and deliberate disinformation to create resentment and fear about migration in the public sphere. My contribution to this approach is to focus on religion, as a force that can fuel hateful and emotional narratives against marginalised groups, and can be used to subtly fabricate false claims.

The next section of the chapter offers an overview of previous literature on the topic, and I will employ the terms “disinformation” and “post-truth” following the chosen definitions of the authors I quote. I will offer a survey of the literature on hate, antagonism, and emotions, connecting it with post-truth and religion. I will, then, describe the characteristics of Salvini’s communication within the Italian public sphere and discuss the use of qualitative textual analysis to explore relevant themes and discourses. Afterwards, I will present some examples of Salvini’s tweets. In doing so, I will describe the three main strategies that I have individuated from my data and which are employed to spread false information: generalisations, hyperboles, and misleading connections. In conclusion, I will analyse how Salvini creates emotional and hateful narratives, and how the mobilisation of religious identity is both a consequence and a cause of the contemporary post-truth climate.

Post-Truth Politics and Religion

Post-truth politics are part of a political struggle to define power relations within society, especially in connection with right-wing politics (Farkas & Schou, 2018). The post-truth climate is sustained by the Internet circulation of disinformation, which may also influence the so-called mainstream media (Bennett & Livingston, 2018). While disinformation is heavily associated with political events, such as Brexit and the election of Donald Trump in 2016, it constitutes a global phenomenon. For instance, the 2017 political election campaigns in Indonesia were characterised by the circulation of false information, which contributed to racism and social divisions (Lim, 2017) and how Indian president Modi employed social media to spread disinformation during his 2019 election campaign, often to promote Hindu nationalism and increase religious polarisation against Muslims (Das & Schroeder, 2020).

In looking at political discourses within the Italian digital public sphere, I argue that religion plays an important role in the spreading and reception of disinformation and post-truth narratives. For instance, Douglas (2018) reports that American fundamentalist Christians are more likely to be the target audience of disinformation. Furthermore, Douglas writes that conspiracy theories frequently include religious content, as happened when Democratic politicians in the US were accused of being part of Satanic rings or supporting ISIS. While there are not many studies that directly connect religion with post-truth politics, previous literature shows the importance of religion within online nationalist and populist discourses, as well as hate speech narratives. For instance, Islam and Islamophobia become entangled with racism in the online discourses of the far-right regarding cultural nativism (Froio, 2018), and tweets about nationalism are frequently connected to race, political partisanship, and religion (Shahin, 2020). In previous studies, I have analysed how the Internet is fertile terrain for the spreading of disinformation in connection to Islamophobia (Evolvi, 2017, 2018). In this regard, George (2017) employs the term “hate spin” to describe the entanglement of religious hate and politics. More specifically, hate spin is “the use of either incitement or manufactured indignation as a political strategy that exploits group identities to mobilize supporters and coerce opponents” (p.160). Hence, hate spin indicates the use of deep-rooted identities, such as religious identities, in political strategies that target certain groups, often through the fabrication and media circulation of online disinformation. In the next section, I will analyse previous literature on the topic of hate and antagonism, and connect it with the use of emotions, to offer a more nuanced depiction of post-truth in relation to religion.

Antagonism and Emotions

Narratives against religious groups and the mechanism of hate spin can be considered examples of political antagonism, as analysed by Mouffe (2013). Antagonism is the designation of certain social groups, such as migrants, as scapegoats for social problems. According to Mouffe, antagonism arises when the groups that are involved in symbolic conflicts are prevented from intervening in public debates, and their motivations and needs are not recognised. Antagonistic conflicts, I would argue, can become emotional when they involve deeply held beliefs, such as those about religion. In this sense, antagonism can be connected more broadly to the notion of “resentful affectivity” that Capelos et al. (2021) employ to discuss reactionary grievances of populist actors, which include anti-immigration antagonisms. This suggests that both hate spin and political antagonism aim at mobilising people’s emotional responses. However, I do not wish to imply that narratives about religion are not rational, to avoid the binary between “rational” secularist thinking and “emotional” religious discourses. Rather, the theoretical approach of Mouffe is useful to contextualise the public sphere as an arena for conflicts that do not necessarily have a rational solution. This connects also with the reflections offered in this section’s introduction, and the idea that an “emotional turn” that challenges the Habermasian idea of rational debate might better define the current state of the public debate (Wahl-Jorgensen, 2019).

Therefore, in exploring post-truth narratives about religion, I incorporate the perspective on emotions by Ahmed (2014). According to Ahmed, emotions are social and cultural practices rather than psychological factors, and they can serve various purposes within the public sphere. For instance, they can be determined by relations of power and be used to marginalise given social groups. Hence, Ahmed conceptualises emotions as “sticky” objects that are based on relations between spaces and bodies, and that create collective identities through the intensity of given attachments. For example, emotions get attached to immigrants and contextualise them as undesirable bodies that need to be ejected from the community. At the same time, white supremacist and nationalist feelings are often described as discourses of love for one’s country. This love becomes hate for the undesirable bodies of those who are perceived as not belonging to the nation, and may result in hate speech and violence. Using Ahmed’s (2014) work as a foundation, Boler and Davis (2020) analyse the use of emotions in online propaganda, describing it as affectively weaponising information to reproduce racism, misogyny, and nationalism. Furthermore, Abdel-Fadil (2019) applies Ahmed’s theory of emotions to online religious conflicts, showing how emotions serve the purpose of reiterating a sense of belonging to a religious community and perceive false information as affectively factual. This theoretical approach to emotions is, thus, useful in exploring the connections between religion and post-truth, especially regarding social differences and marginal bodies.

Considering the interplay of online hate and emotions in online post-truth narratives about religion, I aim to show that Salvini’s disinformation contributes to creating a climate of post-truth that activates emotions connected to religious identities, which in turn fuel the further spreading of false claims, often at the expense of people who are socially marginalised, such as Muslims. In the next section, I will explain how the analysis of Matteo Salvini’s tweets can reveal these characteristics of contemporary post-truth politics.

Matteo Salvini’s Tweets: an Analysis

Matteo Salvini is the leader of the Italian far-right party Lega Nord, which was initially a protest movement focused on the secession of Northern Italy from the Southern part of the country (Albertazzi et al., 2018). During the 1990s and early 2000s, the party had a controversial relationship with Catholicism, as it promoted neo-pagan and Celtic-inspired rituals, allegedly connected to the heritage of Northern Italy. However, under Salvini’s leadership, which started in 2013, the party focused on nationalism more than regionalism. With this change in ideology, the party also begin to employ the so-called “Judeo-Christian” roots of Europe in anti-immigration and anti-Islam terms to support populist, nationalist, and nativist stances (Molle, 2019).

Salvini’s use of disinformation can be ascribed to a general tendency of Italian digital media to spread post-truth narratives within the public sphere. A study on the 2018 national elections and the 2019 European elections in Italy highlighted evidence of social media manipulation and coordinated networks of malicious actors spreading disinformation (Giglietto et al., 2020). The use of social networks and messaging systems by Italian populist parties, such as Salvini’s Lega Nord, tend to have a strong influence on voting behaviours, possibly because of the relatively deregulated digital environment and the low trust in so-called mainstream media in the country (Mosca & Quaranta, 2021). Bracciale and Martella (2017) have analysed Italian political leaders’ communication style on Twitter, finding that Salvini’s includes aggressive and simplistic position-taking, with it being characterised by vulgar language that exploits fear and concern for everyday issues. These characteristics of Salvini’s communication, including personal attacks and negative emotions, may predict greater electoral success (Gerstlé & Nai, 2019). Salvini’s spread of disinformation and use of emotional narratives can be traced to a general tendency within far-right populist parties in Europe. The German far-right party AfD, for instance, tends to present anti-immigration frames as facts rather than interpretations of facts, and to employ ridicule and scandalisation to discredit dissenting voices (Conrad, 2022).

I analyse Salvini’s aggressive Twitter communication as an example of the far-right populist creation of alternative facts. In doing so, I do not focus on news that is blatantly false, but on Salvini’s interpretations of facts and his narrative strategies to present a “truth” that supports his political agenda. This chapter is based on an observation of Salvini’s Twitter account, which counts 1.3 M followers (as of 1 March 2021), between August 2019 and January 2020. This period was chosen because in August 2019, Salvini triggered a government crisis and resigned from his role as Interior Minister. This resulted in a partial loss of popularity but also an intensification of his use of social media, as Salvini arguably tried to rebuild the trust of his supporters, utilising digital media platforms. The observation ended in January 2020, before the COVID pandemic hit and political narratives, including Salvini’s, tended to focus mostly on the diffusion of the virus. During this period, I analysed all of Salvini’s Twitter interactions and I selected 107 of his tweets that discuss religion. These tweets often contain links to Facebook pages (occurring 3 times in the sample), newspaper articles (24 times), videos (20 times), and pictures (38 times), which I also included in the analysis. Furthermore, Salvini’s tweets often attract between a hundred and a thousand reactions, and I included in my analysis the most popular comments as visualised by the Twitter algorithm.

With the help of the qualitative software Atlas.ti, I employed a thematic analysis approach combined with Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) of the tweets. This methodological approach was not aimed at fact-checking, but rather at looking at predominant discursive topics and power relations, following the approach also employed by Conrad (2022). Thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006) serves the purpose of identifying relevant narrative patterns and clustering them into categories, thus helping to understand what are the predominant topics that Salvini talks about on Twitter. Furthermore, CDA is based on the notion that texts are spaces for the representation of the world and socio-cultural practices (Fairclough, 2013). In particular, CDA helps understand power (im)balances between minority and majority social groups (including religious groups) and it has been employed to analyse discriminatory discourses of far-right populist leaders (Sengul, 2019). This approach proved useful in understanding antagonist and emotional discourses that help Salvini strengthen his political agenda, and to retrieve the tactics he employs to circulate post-truth narratives. In the following section, I will present and analyse the predominant themes and discursive patterns found in Matteo Salvini’s tweets, with a focus on his three strategies to present alternative facts in support of his political agenda.


The analysis of Salvini’s Twitter account shows two main narrative patterns. First, he tends to focus on Christianity, followed by Islam and then Judaism. Second, he employs discussions about these three religions to create three main strategies of post-truth diffusion, which I will describe as generalisations, hyperboles, and misleading connections. In the following sections, I will address Salvini’s use of religion and his narrative strategies in connection with post-truth politics, highlighting also the use of hateful discourses and emotions.


In his tweets, Salvini focuses predominantly on Christianity, and Catholicism in particular. As seen in Table 7.1, Salvini discusses Christianity through a variety of themes: he talks about the Catholic clergy, both in positive and negative terms, he reflects on the need for displaying crucifixes in public places, and circulates pictures of himself praying. Salvini often mentions Christmas, probably because the time frame of the tweets taken into account included the month of December 2019. Furthermore, he sometimes claims that Christians worldwide are persecuted, and employs Christianity to reiterate heteronormative family values. Table 7.1 also shows that Islam is related to migration and terrorism, exclusively in negative terms. Lastly, some tweets relate to Judaism, because Salvini condemns anti-Semitism and shows political support for Israel. These themes suggest that, in Salvini’s tweets, religious discourses about different faiths often overlap to support a nationalist and anti-migration agenda based on the othering of Muslims, and activate emotions connected with the so-called Judeo-Christian roots of Italy and Europe.

Table 7.1 Religious themes in Salvini’s tweets

During Christmas 2019, Salvini employed a header for his Twitter account that exemplifies some of his religious-related discourses. The header contains a picture of Salvini smiling, wishing “Happy holy Christmas and happy new year,” on a background with Christmas decorations and a nativity scene. In December 2019, Salvini has been indeed vocal in celebrating nativity scenes as symbols of the religious spirit of Christmas, and condemning schools and offices who decided not to display them. The header also contains the logo of Salvini’s party, Lega Nord, and the slogan “Prima gli Italiani” (Italians First), a clear connection to global far-right discourses. In addition, there is a citation from Pope John Paul II saying, “Europe is Christian or it is not Europe.” This citation points to Salvini’s anti-migration ideology: the notion of “Italians First” and the Christian themes of the header echo his strategy to use religion in exclusionary terms, implying that non-Christians (Muslims, in particular) are not part of this collective Italian and European identity. Such a statement is not factually correct, as it implies that there are no European Muslims and denies that non-Christians (including atheists) can claim Italian identity. This can be connected to Ahmed’s (2014) claim that nationalism employs negative emotions towards those who are not perceived as part of the national identity, while reiterating love for the nation.

The header also shows some characteristics of Salvini’s communication style on Twitter. General observations of his Twitter interactions suggest that he employs pictures or videos of himself doing everyday activities and uses citations to support his political agenda. Salvini also frequently addresses his followers and voters directly, for instance, calling them “friends” or wishing them “Happy Sunday” often with the use of emoticons. Together with pictures of himself, he also shares stories about his children, and pictures of pets and babies, arguably because these types of tweets get the most attention on Twitter. Salvini’s communication style suggests that he skilfully employs the textual and visual potential of Twitter to mobilise people’s emotions, for instance, describing a religious-related event, such as Christmas, as a mark of national identity. In the next sections, I will analyse Salvini’s use of religion within the three main strategies used in the circulation of alternative facts and disinformation.

Strategies of Post-Truth Politics

The analysis of Matteo Salvini’s tweets shows that he often circulates news from online newspapers and television programmes. These are not, necessarily, unreliable sources and they do not directly contribute to disinformation, however, Salvini offers interpretations of these pieces of news that support his own political agenda, and gives comments that frequently go beyond simple information. I would argue that this kind of communication style contributes to post-truth politics in three main ways: by creating generalisations about religious groups, and specifically presenting Islam as a monolithic entity; by employing hyperboles that foster fear and anger in exaggerating facts about religion; and by establishing misleading connections between facts that are not necessarily linked. Below, I offer some examples of these three strategies.


Salvini often discusses Islam and Islamic terrorism to support his anti-migration agenda, as shown in Table 7.1. He tends to generalise in considering all migrants as Muslims, and vice versa, even if this is not factually correct. Furthermore, he denies the inner heterogeneity of Islam and depicts all Muslims as holding the same values. An example is a tweet where Salvini posts a video of a journalist interviewing a father and a daughter who immigrated to Italy from Bangladesh. The video, which is also posted on Salvini’s Facebook page, is summarised with the words “She cannot go out alone, it is Muslim law. When she is 18, her husband will decide for her.” Underneath the yellow banner, the following words are written, “Integration? No, Middle Ages.” Salvini comments on the video in the tweet by saying, “It is so sad. If this is the model of integration, we cannot give away Italian citizenship as a gift as PD [left-wing party] would want…” The tweet also contains the hashtag #NoIusSoli, which Salvini uses to oppose the left-wing proposal to institute the Jus Soli principle of granting automatically Italian citizenship to children born in the country.

By criticising the Muslim father in the video, Salvini implies that all migrants are Muslims and that they all share the same ideology, thus suggesting a misleading generalisation. Furthermore, the Jus Soli law is not connected to religion and would not apply to the men in the video, as it is designated for children. Using words such as “Middle Ages” and implying that Islam cannot adapt to so-called Western modernity, Salvini appeals to people’s emotions so as to kindle fear and anger, and spread an antagonistic feeling against Muslims. This strategy seems to provoke other post-truth narratives, as several comments to this tweet also contain misleading information. For example, one of the top comments praises Switzerland and Russia for only allowing legal migrants to live in the country, not helping them with work or housing, and expelling them if they commit crimes or participate in demonstrations. This comment is not substantiated by any source and shows confusion about migration and refugee laws in other countries. The tendency of Salvini to generalise, by considering Muslims and migrants as a homogeneous and dangerous category, likely legitimises some of his followers in also circulating unverified information to support anti-migration ideologies.

Another example of disinformation based on the generalisation of Islam can be found in a tweet about a mosque in the region of Umbria. The tweet contains a screenshot of a local newspaper, with an article entitled “Mosque, two former mayors and also the Imam are under investigation.” Salvini comments on the picture with the words, “Maxi-mosque stopped thanks to Lega [Nord].” There is also the hashtag #dalleparoleaifatti, “from words to facts.” The picture of the newspaper has the logo of the left-wing PD, to imply that the two former mayors belong to this party, and that Salvini’s party, Lega Nord, denounced the facts. This might have been a strategy to create outrage in the audience, but also shows that Salvini’s party can provide relief by solving perceived problems.

This tweet is part of Salvini’s opposition to the building of mosques in Italy, which he considers sites of terrorist activities. While Salvini includes a screenshot from a newspaper in the tweet, some comments call out the misleading character of this news. For example, a commentator writes that the article is about the abuse of office charges for the land where the mosque is built, and does not have anything to do with religion. While it is not clear whether Salvini intentionally wanted to make his followers believe that this mosque is connected to terrorist activities, it is evident from the comments that several Twitter users expect Salvini to have been spreading disinformation and try to call him out. These examples show how the generalisations that Salvini employs to describe Muslims as terrorists, or unable to accept modernity and gender equality, reinforces a climate of post-truth politics. The use of disinformation provokes different reactions, with both people further circulating misleading narratives to criticise Islam, and users who are sceptical of what Salvini says. Together with generalisation, Salvini also employs hyperboles to further support his political agenda.


Salvini often comments on news and facts by exaggerating events, and using hyperbole as figures of speech to kindle his followers’ reactions. For example, during a journalist television programme, Salvini criticises the alleged cultural change that Muslim immigrants provoke in Italy with the following words: “As long as it is not illegal, out of respect for those who are coming here with [dinghy] boats tomorrow morning, I’m eating bread, salami, and [pork-based] coppa piacentina.” The video of the programme was retweeted by Salvini’s Twitter account, and exemplifies some of Salvini’s use of exaggerations. He claims here that Muslim migrants who have just arrived in Italy (or are arriving “tomorrow,” a hyperbole to say that they have recently immigrated) force Italians to give up their traditions, in this case, eating pork products such as salami and coppa piacentina (type of cold cut). It also shows some traits of post-truth politics connected with the previous point of generalisation, because Salvini does not acknowledge the existence of non-Muslim migrants, Italian Muslims, or Muslims who eat pork. Besides, he implicitly criticises left-wing parties and pro-migration actors for forcing people to give up pork, even if this has never been discussed at the political level in Italy, and dietary accommodations based on religion are granted without restrictions for other citizens.

In the video embedded in the tweet, Salvini argues about the topic with left-wing cartoonist and journalist Vauro Senesi. Commenting on Salvini’s statement, Senesi notices that he is disrespectful towards Jews, who also do not eat pork. He calls out this hypocritical behaviour, because Salvini has often been vocal against anti-Semitism to defend the so-called Judeo-Christian roots of Europe, but ignores Jews’ dietary restrictions here. In the video, Salvini reacts to this criticism angrily calling Senesi “crazy” and arguing that he “needs to be visited by a good doctor [psychiatrist]” for thinking that eating pork is anti-Semitic. This is another example of Salvini’s hyperbolic communication style: he tends to appeal to his voters with colloquial language, and he often attacks his opponents, insulting them (for instance, through the exaggeration that Senesi needs a “psychiatrist” for supporting migration) and changing the topic of the conversation. By ridiculing Senesi and spreading the fear of Muslims “forcing” Italians to abandon their culinary traditions, Salvini once again mobilises emotions to criticise his political opponents and offer alternative interpretations of the facts.

Another example of Salvini’s use of hyperboles is found in a tweet that criticises a Catholic priest. The circulation of religious-related discourses on Salvini’s Twitter, including pictures of himself praying and visiting sacred places, is positively accepted by a part of the Catholic clergy, but challenged by some religious leaders. Therefore, Salvini also employs Twitter to attack some Catholic actors (see Table 7.1, “Clergy”). In an ironic tweet, Salvini criticises a priest helping migrants by posting a video of the priest singing “Bella Ciao,” a popular anti-fascist song associated with communist ideas, in a church. He writes on the video “’Bella Ciao during… mass! Are you ok?!?,” ironically implying that the priest is crazy. The text of the tweet says, “Do you remember the priest from Tuscany who wants to bring all of Africa to Italy? Today he did a little concert with ‘sardine’ [name of an informal protest group that criticises Salvini] with ‘Bella Ciao’… during Mass! In a while we’ll see him performing at the Sanremo [Music Festival]! (This is crazy).”

The video embedded in the tweet is authentic, but describing the priest as “wanting to bring all of Africa to Italy” is a hyperbole that pertains to a post-truth narrative. While this priest, like many other religious leaders, is engaged in organising activities and aid for refugees, Salvini misleadingly suggests that he actively wants to bring “all” Africans to Italy, using hyperbolic language, arguably, aimed at spreading fear and outrage. This connects with some recurrent narratives of Salvini, who blames left-wing politicians for allegedly trying to “substitute” white and Catholic Italians through illegal migration, and claims that Christians are under threat (see Table 7.1, “Persecutions against Christians”). By showing that this priest sings “Bella Ciao,” Salvini arguably appeals to his followers who dislike the left-wing and anti-fascist values associated with the song. In the tweet, he employs colloquial and aggressive language, ridiculing the priest instead of engaging in actual criticism of his actions. By giving the impression that a part of the clergy is working with left-wing politicians and groups (such as the “sardine”) to actively support migration, Salvini provokes emotional reactions in his followers, attracting both comments that insult Salvini or that attack the priest. The criticism to his political or ideological opponents exemplified in these two tweets are frequent in Salvini’s social media activities, where he employs words such as “stupid,” “crazy,” or “disgusting.”

This type of language, connected with the use of hyperbole, contributes to a post-truth climate by exaggerating the facts he comments upon and the actions of his opponents. Harsh language against certain groups or individuals is also combined with another strategy, that of suggesting misleading connections.

Misleading Connections

Salvini also discusses facts by putting them in relation to non-connected events, and offering commentaries that are not always pertinent. For example, he often creates misleading connections in condemning anti-Semitism and supporting Israel (see Table 7.1). A tweet comments on an attack against a Rabbi in New York during Hannukah. Salvini writes, “It is a disgrace and there is an increased concern for the episodes of anti-Semitism, of hate against Jews and #Israel, which terrorists and their disgusting ideological supporters would like to cancel from Earth.” The tweet is a part of a thread where Salvini shares a video of the attack and expresses solidarity for American Jews, arguably trying to spark outrage for the violence and sympathy for the victims.

While the tweet aims at condemning violence, Salvini likely employs the event to strengthen his pro-Israel ideology. Even if the video of the attack does not mention Israel but refers to American Jews, Salvini suggests a connection with anti-Israel feelings that is not supported by sources. In doing so, the tweet conflates anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel. This tweet is also similar to others where Salvini implicitly or explicitly condemns Islam as the principal cause of anti-Semitism. The use of the word “terrorist,” indeed, is probably a reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to Islamic attacks, which Salvini often mentions in anti-Islam terms. While some comments to this tweet remark that Salvini’s party was accused of anti-Semitism in the past, Salvini now tries to portray himself as a supporter of Jewish communities. The reason might be that Salvini implicitly appeals to the notion of the “Judeo-Christian” roots of Italy and Europe, which he uses to build alliances with Jews and exclude Muslims from the construction of national identity.

Mentions of Israel and anti-Semitic actions in Salvini’s tweet seem to reinforce the generalisation that all Muslims are terrorists, and offer the misleading connection that anti-Semitic attacks are always examples of Muslim violence against Israel. Another example of misleading connections is found in a tweet, with the text, “For those who believe, Our Lady of Medjugorje gave a message: people can be judged by their gaze. Conte has a gaze of someone who is fearful and runs away.” The tweet, which also includes a picture of Salvini during the television programme “Porta a Porta,” talks about the at-time Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. In the video,Footnote 1 television host Bruno Vespa asks Salvini some questions about the national economy. Salvini blames Conte for not taking certain responsibilities, and mentions the Holy Virgin, who is believed to appear regularly and deliver messages in the Bosnian city of Medjugorje. Because Our Lady of Medjugorje said that it is more important to judge people’s gazes than facts, Salvini feels legitimised in criticising Prime Minister Conte based on his gaze alone. As Conte allegedly has the gaze of “someone who is fearful and runs away,” Salvini concludes that he is a liar and cannot be trusted.

In the interview quoted in the tweet, Salvini mentions Medjugorje to change the topic of the conversation and blame his opponent, as also seen in relation to his use of hyperboles in the previous section. While the words of Our Lady of Medjugorje can be meaningful to certain believers, Salvini applies them out of context, almost giving the impression that the Holy Mary delivered a political message. Instead of criticising Conte for his actions, he alleges that his gaze alone suffices to judge him, offering a misleading connection between political decisions and a person’s appearance. Because the belief in apparitions is largely not based on factual evidence, employing this argument allows Salvini to appeal to the emotion of some Catholic believers and make claims not supported by actual facts. Tweets that suggest misleading connections, aim at legitimising Salvini’s political decisions by confusing the actual facts and establishing relations that are often antagonistic and emotional. Reiterating the antagonism between Muslims and Jews, and emotionally appealing to the audience through criticism based on religion rather than political actions, Salvini shows how news and facts can be commented upon in a way that contributes to a post-truth climate.


This chapter employed the example of Matteo Salvini’s Twitter to show the entanglement of post-truth politics, social media, and religious discourses within populist communication. Through a qualitative textual analysis of Salvini’s tweets about religion, I explored his use of hateful narratives and emotions. While the literature on post-truth politics often identifies the North American and British contexts as fertile political terrains for the spread of disinformation, the case of Salvini demonstrates that there are some commonalities in the discourses of the far-right globally. Nevertheless, Salvini’s use of religion in post-truth politics shows some peculiarities of the Italian public sphere, such as attention to Catholic symbols and references to the Catholic clergy. While this study was limited to one political actor in one national context, future research may compare different populist politicians in various countries to add complexity to the current literature on post-truth politics.

The analysis of Salvini’s tweets suggests that he talks about Christianity, Islam, and Judaism to support his political agenda. He often ascribes symbolic power to those belonging to the so-called Judeo-Christian roots of Italy and Europe to push forward anti-migration ideologies. Hateful narratives and antagonism are at the core of these discourses, as religion seems to serve the purpose of creating divisions: Salvini stirs hate against Muslims by describing them as “other” than Christians and Jews, and incites internal conflicts among Catholics that hold different political ideologies. In doing so, he designates Muslims as scapegoats for social problems in an example of political antagonism (Mouffe, 2013), and creates hate spins around religious identities (George, 2017). The spread of disinformation likely derives from this instrumental use of religion, which serves a political purpose and does not necessarily involve an in-depth knowledge of religious identities. Religion is used to create narratives in a public sphere not characterised by Habermasian rationality, but rather on emotional reactions and non-rational conflicts, as highlighted by Mouffe (2013). This indicates the need for future research that better explores the public sphere as non-rational and also connected to emotional narratives.

Hence, Salvini uses religion to provoke emotional reactions, arguably because religion often involves deeply held connections and identities. Among the emotions found in Salvini’s tweets, negative emotions are predominant: outrage for the alleged violence of Muslims, fear for religious and cultural change, hate against certain political and religious actors. Moreover, the colloquial style of Salvini often combines anger for his opponents with satire and irony. However, these negative emotions are counterbalanced by positive ones, especially the relief that Salvini seeks by banning migration, and the love and attachment for Catholic symbols and holidays. This use of emotions can be understood through the work of Ahmed (2014), who posits that different emotions are used for various purposes, and that the othering of migrants and non-white bodies is contrasted by sentiments of love for the nation. The analysis of Salvini’s emotional narratives suggests that he understands the logic of social media well, because his colloquial, direct, and sarcastic style allows him to connect with his followers and mobilise them around shared religious identities. While his tweets attract comments that are very different in tone—going from those praising him to those harshly insulting his actions—they arguably give him publicity. Therefore, a focus on religion in future studies could highlight some new aspects of post-truth politics, namely its emotional characteristics and its connections with positive and negative narratives around shared identities and political actions.

Furthermore, in his use of hate and emotions in supporting his political agenda, Salvini mainly employs three strategies that can be described as part of post-truth politics: generalisations, hyperboles, and misleading connections. It is not clear whether Salvini spreads false information intentionally or unintentionally, but these three strategies often overlap to support his political agenda and allow him to offer interpretations of facts that contribute to a climate of post-truth politics. Concerning Conrad’s work (2022), the case study of Salvini suggests that disinformation is not only deliberate or inadvertent, but it also can be more or less subtle. Hence, these strategies show that post-truth politics is not necessarily characterised by news that is blatantly false, but can involve implicit disinformation. This suggests that existing definitions of post-truth politics can benefit from a more nuanced understanding of its characteristics, and that future research can look for other commonly used discursive strategies of disinformation and their impact on the public sphere.

This chapter aimed at contributing to the discussion of post-truth politics within the public sphere by emphasising the importance of religion in understanding the use of hate and emotions, as well as to analyse strategies of indirect spreading of disinformation. As shown by Salvini’s tweets, disinformation creates a climate of post-truth that activates religious emotions through the circulation of claims about religion; in turn, religious narratives further fuel antagonisms and emotional reactions that sustain the spreading of disinformation. This suggests that the Internet, and social media in particular, often do not constitute a public sphere for rational debate, but are characterised by emotional antagonism when it comes to topics such as religion. Therefore, the understanding of post-truth politics, especially in connection with political discourses, can benefit from incorporating a more thorough analysis of how religion contributes to strategies of spreading disinformation.