Twitter spambots target Dutch politicians
A group of more than 500 Twitter accounts has interfered with Dutch politics in the past year. This is usually done by robots, but occasionally, there is a person behind it. Common targets were, for example, PVV party leader Geert Wilders and D66 party leader Sigrid Kaag.
A joint research by Pointer, De Groene Amsterdammer and the national broadcaster NOS shows that the accounts have sent more than 63,000 tweets to party leaders of current parliamentary parties in the past year. On average, this amounts to about 170 tweets per day.
Ninety percent of the accounts come from outside the Netherlands. Wilders' tweets - about Turkey, Islam and Zwarte Piet - led to coordinated campaigns from Turkey, India, Pakistan and from fans of Korean pop music. Last year, when there was a lot of discussion about European aid money because of the corona crisis, Prime Minister Rutte's official account was bombarded by Italian and Spanish spammers because the Netherlands bothered about financial support for Southern Europe.
In a video that circulated a lot during that period, you can see how a garbage man asks the prime minister not to transfer money to Italy and Spain. Rutte responds "oh, no, no" and "I will remember this" and gives his thumbs up. An English tweet about this then became the version with which the bots spammed the Prime Minister's account.
The refugee crises in Iraq and Eritrea also ensure coordinated actions. A group of accounts, 26, are this time targeting Rutte, Kaag and also GroenLinks party leader Jesse Klaver. The purpose of the attacks is to appeal to the politicians and to explain how dire the situation is.
Old man from Gelderland
Sometimes it turns out that an actual person is behind the spam content. The investigation shows an old man from Gelderland who manages fifteen accounts on the social network. He sends ministers 400 tweets a day. This is not done automatically, he says. "No, I'm just an old man of 75 years old sitting on his smartphone. I don't even have a computer."
Further investigation shows that the accounts are registered with the contact details of a company in Drenthe. The company appears to have been involved in a hack; login details were stolen and then used to enter the account.
"We have a kind of internet where you no longer know whether people are real or not," says Richard Rogers, professor of New Media and Digital Culture (UvA). When asked how big the impact is of these accounts was, he answers that for journalists and opinion makers Twitter is often a basic source for stories. "They look at what's popular, and that's exactly what the trolls are trying to influence."