At least 476 Dutch troll accounts have been uncovered, spreading disinformation and conspiracy theories on Twitter regarding the upcoming US presidential elections.
In research conducted by Pointer, Dutch-speaking trolls using anonymous Twitter accounts have been trying to influence and mislead their fellow Dutchies regarding the US elections. The trolls share links to images, websites, and videos that present an inaccurate portrayal of the presidential candidates.
Pointer has been collecting and analyzing data since August. Out of the 15,000 Dutch-language Twitter accounts they investigated, 476 were run by trolls.
Using verbal intimidation, stoking conspiracy theories, and derailing online conversations, these trolls purposely provoke in order to create confusion and polarisation. They aim to deceive and bully the Dutch into believing that Donald Trump will win the election.
Why do they bother?
But the Dutch can’t vote in the US elections, so why all the effort? The answer isn’t entirely overt, but it’s about changing the way people think in general.
University of Amsterdam political communication lecturer Michael Hameleers says the trolls sow confusion because it changes the way people form their opinions. “And if that happens more and more, you can see in elections that people may no longer base themselves on the facts,” he explains. “People may disagree, but those disagreements must be based on the same understanding of the factual truths. And if not, then you have a problem.”
With disinformation flying around right and left, and the internet connecting people in conversation from all over the world, opinions make a difference — apparently, even from nearly 5,000 miles away.
What are they saying?
A favourite mode of miscommunication amongst the trolls is the sharing of YouTube videos. These are conspiracy theories or interviews, often from legitimate news sources, that show a negative outcome for the trolls’ disfavoured candidate.
The trolls twist the message of the news report and often attack the news outlet directly for sharing the message. Among the most widespread links are NOS, AD, and De Telegraaf.
Of course, trolls also share content from popular misinformation sites as well, such as Frontniews, NineForNews, CommonSenseTV, and Bitchute.
— Tim Jones (@TheRealTLLJ) June 27, 2020
But it’s conspiracy theories that are a troll’s brood and boter. Conspiracy thinking regarding the presidential elections tends to tie in closely with coronavirus conspiracy theories. Even a simple, seemingly innocent hashtag like #mondkapjes refers to conspiracy thinking regarding the reality and severity of coronavirus.
But not all of the focus is abroad for these shifty characters. Another troll go-to is the long-time conspiracy theory regarding Dutch civil servant Joris Demmink as a supposed child abuser.
Does it have an impact?
A recent survey conducted by Ipsos shows that 61% of Dutch people are in favour of Joe Biden for US president. This is not to say that the remaining 39% prefer Trump. Rather, only 11% favour Trump, while the remaining 28% don’t know or prefer not to say. Whether or not the Dutch trolls have had any impact on these margins can’t be known.
Interestingly, the same survey showed that Dutch people are not very concerned about fake news meddling with their own elections at home. The majority do, however, expect the spread of misinformation to be an issue for the US elections.
Well, if trolls are showing up as far as the Netherlands to tamper with US elections they may very well be proven right with the latter idea.
We must starve them
It’s not currently a punishable offence to spread misinformation unless it’s considered defamation or slander, so Hameleers says that the best solution is to stop feeding the trolls. “For example, if you come across someone on a platform who says that your opinion is incorrect and also expresses hateful sentiment there, I think you shouldn’t go into that. It’s best to just ignore it so that the impact can be limited.”
Are you surprised by the discovery of the Dutch trolls? Let us know what you make of this in the comments!
Feature Image: Cottonbro/Pexels