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How Forum voor Democratie (FVD) politicians reinforce anti-Semitism on Twitter

  • conspiracy theories
  • hate speech
  • social media analysis
  • Society

Forum voor Democratie (FVD) politicians systematically retweet messages on Twitter from accounts that also spread anti-Semitic tweets. This is supported by a study, conducted by Leiden University and Textgain, of members of parliament, city council members, and candidate city council members from various Dutch political parties. The FVD does this far more frequently than the other six parties surveyed: for every 5,000 retweets and likes by FVD politicians, there is an average of 33 retweets from “hardcore antisemitic” accounts, compared to only 1 in 5000 by the PVV and 0 by the other five parties.

In their research, Elizabet Cappon (Textgain) and Peter Burger (Leiden University) looked at retweets of all messages from anti-Semitic accounts, not just anti-Semitic messages.

“I never take the Jewish brew,” one Twitter user said of corona vaccines in October of last year. FVD MPs Thierry Baudet and Pepijn van Houwelingen did not share this message, but they did share other corona policy-related posts from that account. By retweeting messages from anti-Semitic accounts such as this one, the politicians in question are also expanding the reach and influence of these accounts on the platform, as well as increasing the accounts’ recommendation rate in the Twitter algorithm. This, in turn, increases the likelihood of average Twitter users coming across such anti-Semitic content, and therefore spreading the ideology’s influence further online.

The majority of the accounts found by the researchers are “diffuse anti-Semitic,” which means that anti-Semitic stereotypes and stories are intertwined with other conspiracy theories. According to the study, such accounts account for 10% of the tweets liked and retweeted by FVD politicians. The PVV figure is 2%, while the BIJ1, D66, Denk, GroenLinks, and SGP figures are 0%.

‘Irresponsible conduct’

Peter Burger, a Leiden University researcher and one of the study’s authors, had been noticing for some time that tweets from anti-Semitic accounts were getting a platform through FVD. “I was left wondering: is this typical of the FVD, or do other parties do this as well?” Based on millions of tweets, he approached Artificial Intelligence (AI) company Textgain to see if his observation was verifiable.

Burger observed “a shocking amount of anti-Semitism.” “With content that I’m sure will astound people. For example, there is an ancient story that Jews ritually murder children that is still widely circulated in those circles.”

Politicians who disseminate the accounts, according to Burger, act irresponsibly. “Even if they do not themselves retweet anti-Semitic tweets. The accounts are capitalising on Baudet’s massive online reach of 273,000 followers.”

Forum voor Democratie declined to comment Tuesday morning. “I retweet a lot,” Baudet admitted to the Volkskrant. “The beauty of Twitter is that it focuses on the message rather than the messenger.”

More information can be found on Benedmo’s website, or the full research report by Peter Burger (Newscheckers, Leiden University), Elizabeth Cappon (Textgain), and Gijs van Beek (Textgain) can be found in this link.