Dutch king warns against fake news, selfishness in 2017 Christmas speech

King Willem-Alexander giving the 2016 Christmas speech
King Willem-Alexander giving the 2016 Christmas speech. (Koninklijk Huis)

King Willem-Alexander lashed out at the prevalence of apparent fake news permeating through society in his annual Christmas Day address. "It is often difficult to distinguish facts and falsifications from one another. Nuance and empathy seem to be in jeopardy from the start, and Twitter sometimes makes the debate bitter," the king stated.

His comments come just days after a row over statements made by the new U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands, Peter Hoekstra. Born in the Netherlands, Hoekstra was video recorded making unproven statements that there are "no-go" zones in the Netherlands where police and politicians have been set on fire supporters of Islamic fundamentalism.

The king did not directly reference the American envoy, particularly as the speech was recorded "several days" before its broadcast, according to the royal family's press statement. Hoekstra subsequently apologized for the interview, and for accusing those who called him on the statements of distributing "fake news."

Willem-Alexander also alluded to the issue of propaganda in his speech last year. "The foundation of everyday life turns into quicksand if perception loses sight of reality," he said in 2016. "Let us honestly name difficult problems, but if there is one country that also knows connection and solidarity, it is the Netherlands."

That message of connectedness was repeated again in Monday's speech. Willem-Alexander stressed the importance of community and called on the Dutch people to be more selfless and share a wider sense of togetherness. He called on people of different backgrounds to come together even as traditional gathering places have changed over the years.

"The places where very different people have traditionally encountered each other, church, office, café, sports club, school, increasingly lose that connecting function," he stated. "Perhaps only the hospital is still a place where you come into contact with those of a different background and lifestyle."

To that end, he also said he was pleased to be able to celebrate his fiftieth birthday with so many different people from so many walks of life in the Netherlands earlier this year.

The king also took note of difficult times the kingdom faced in 2017, only briefly mentioning the hurricane which caused severe damage on Sint Maarten, Saba, and Eustatius. On Sint Maarten alone it could take years before the island fully recovers from Hurricane Irma. He also remembered the death of his father-in-law, Jorge Zorreguieta.

The speech, recorded at the king's residence in Wassenaar days ago, was broadcast on multiple broadcast channels and social media at 1 p.m. on Monday. Several million people typically watch the speech each year.