Russia spreading coronavirus disinformation in Netherlands, Minister says

Russia is spreading disinformation about the coronavirus in the Netherlands, Minister Kasja Ollongren of Home Affairs said in a letter to parliament. Intelligence service AIVD found "Russian narratives" about the virus being shared in a number of Dutch-language social media groups, she said.

These narratives emphasize "alleged European divisions and lack of mutual solidarity between countries in Western Europe in the field of Covid-19," Ollongren wrote. She added that outside the social media groups in which these messages were shared, their reach remained limited.

The Minister did not say in which social media groups the messages were shared, or what evidence the AIVD found of Russian interference. 

Ollongren said that this type of disinformation cannot legally be prevented, because it is covered by protected speech unless it takes the form of illegal content, like child pornography, hate speech, or promoting terrorism. She called on internet platforms and political parties to be more transparent, and step up the fight against the spread of disinformation.

The government can also play a regulatory role to make sure people understand where there content is coming from, and who sponsored it as an advertisement, the Minister said. 

According to Ollongren, an abundance of information surrounds the coronavirus, which makes it difficult for people to find reliable sources and information. Misleading information about Covid-19 is circulating in various ways, she said, specifically mentioning the rumor that the virus is connected to the 5G network. 

"This misleading information about 5G may have contributed to the arson of various masts in recent weeks," Ollongren said. "The European Commission and health organization WHO already emphasized that there is no link between Covid-19 and 5G technology, and that viruses are not spread via radio waves or mobile networks."

On Tuesday, King Willem-Alexander reappointed Ollongren to her old position of Deputy Prime Minister, at Prime Minister Mark Rutte's recommendation. Social Affairs Minister Wouter Koolmees will no longer serve as the Deputy PM, a position he held on a temporary basis while Ollongren recovered from a medical procedure.