"Russian trolls active in Belgium and The Netherlands”

According to an investigation by journalists from the Dutch broadsheet NRC Russian trolls are trying to influence debate in both Belgium and The Netherlands by sending tweets on the social media platform Twitter. NRC reports that more than 200,000 tweets have been sent by the Russian “Internet Research Agency” that is referred to as the “troll factory” by those investigating Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential elections.   

Trolls are people that post messages, often under false names, to manipulate the news agenda or to create division. In the investigation into the Russian interference in the American elections two years ago the spotlight was turned on Internet Research Agency in Saint Petersburg. Although Twitter has since removed the “troll factory’s” accounts, NRC was able to combine two archives containing tweets and reconstruct some of the Russian trolls’ covert work.  

The Internet Research Agency turned its attention to the Low Countries after the terrorist attacks in Brussels and Zaventem on 22 March 2016. According to NRC, it was from then that trolls became active on a large scale in The Netherlands. Sentences in Dutch were copied (complete with spelling and grammatical errors) and Islam-critical hashtags such as “#IslamKills” were added.    

In the months after the attacks the Russian trolls were active in the debate about the so-called “culture wars” in The Netherlands in which some allege that Islam threatens our Western culture. The troll expressed their support for the far-right politician Geert Wilders and call on Dutch voters to vote for his PVV party in the run up to last year’s Dutch parliamentary elections. Some of the tweets were also racist in nature.  

NRC writes that during 2016 and 2017 the Russian trolls sent at least 940 tweets that were written in Dutch. Previously examples of Russian attempts to influence public opinion in The Netherlands and Belgium.