When the anti-vaccine riots that broke out on November 19 shocked the Netherlands, Ricardo Pronk was on the scene and broadcast live on social media.
Planck, 50, is an anti-vaccine activist who runs a Facebook group with approximately 10,000 fans. The organization recently shared a call for protests on the streets of the port city of Rotterdam on November 19, which later turned into violent incidents.
Pronk’s group has since been deleted by Facebook, but it is only part of a wider network of conspiracy theorists and anti-Covid-19 vaccines on social networks, and even spread to the Dutch parliament, causing concerns among experts.
Pronk always promotes “vaccine is a murder weapon”. He also spread the QAnon Group’s conspiracy theories about “global elites” disguised as “satan who abuses children”.
However, Pronk, an unemployed former computer engineer, chose the lion logo on the flame background for the organization. He said that he was not wrong when the protests became violent in November 19th. Five people were injured in the clash between Rotterdam and the police, and riots spread throughout the country for the next three days.
“Violence is not the best way, that’s for sure. It’s better to do everything peacefully,” Pronk defended.
During the worst riots in the Netherlands in 40 years and the wave of violence two weeks ago in January, social media was not only used by anti-vaccination and conspiracy groups to organize protests, but also spread misinformation.
Ciaran O’Connor, an analyst at the Institute for Strategic Dialogues (ISD) in London, said: “The special thing about the Netherlands is that many of the Covid-19 protests this year have become violent.”
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte called the mobs “stupid” and “scum”. O’Connor said that the object of criticism was the prevalence of conspiracy theories circulating on the Dutch Internet.
According to Facebook’s research, on Facebook alone, the top 125 groups that spread COVID-19 gossip increased their followers by 63% in 6 months, with 789,000 members in a country of 17 million people.
During the riots that broke out on November 19, the Telegram social network was flooded with protest plans and riot calls, as well as anti-Muslim, Jew, and homosexual messages.
“The anti-vaccination and anti-Covid-19 campaigns are creating space for groups to participate and vent violence,” O’Connor said.
Dutch officials said that the rioters had a wide range of backgrounds, ranging from angry young people to football hooligans and real anti-vaccine activists, but they also noted the importance of social media in the protests.
In June, Dutch intelligence agencies expressed concern that such protests are “incubators of extremism.”
Claes de Vreese, professor of political communication at the University of Amsterdam, said that in a country where 85% of adults are vaccinated, the anti-vaccination movement is “obviously a minority”.
But unlike their neighbors, these groups have been trying to expand their influence by “finding political allies in parliament,” the Democratic Forum Party. The chairman of the far-right party, Thiery Baudet, has given up anti-immigration rhetoric, adopted an anti-vaccination stance, and promoted conspiracy theories to manipulate voters.
Baud is also known as the “Donald Trump of the Netherlands”. A post he made before the election in March was misleadingly labeled by Twitter. This is the first time a Dutch politician has been tagged by this social network.
A Forum Democrat recently received condemnation for threatening to “trial” his congressional colleagues after the Forum Democrats came to power, because he supported the government’s policies.
Conner said that some misinformation spread through the surveillance network of social networks because it spread in the Netherlands. “Twitter and Facebook are not as focused on protecting the door of irresponsible users in the Netherlands as in the United States or the United Kingdom,” he said.
Hong Han (follow Agence France-Presse)