At least fifty accounts spread fake news about corona in the Netherlands

Since the beginning of the corona crisis, at least fifty anonymous Twitter accounts have been spreading fake news about corona in the Netherlands. That concludes datajournalism platform Pointer (KRO-NCRV) after investigating 1.7 million tweets about the corona virus. More than 500 more accounts were found that are suspected to be fake news accounts.

These are so-called trolls: accounts on social media that are used to sow unrest and disrupt discussions, with the ultimate aim of disrupting society.

“You often see trolls spreading fake news from ideology to kick against the establishment,” says data journalist Jerry Vermanen van Pointer in the CCeit Radio 1 News. “We’ve looked at the content of the reports before, now more at the accounts themselves. Sometimes they’re not real people or they’re in a different time zone. It’s often still unclear who’s behind the buttons.”

Vermanen does have an idea how some of the fake news ends up on social media. “There is a suspicion that some trolls are set up by fake news sites and distribute content for one website. But sometimes there are also trolls that only interfere in conversations. Then it’s harder to say who’s behind it.”

530 messages widely shared

In the past five months, 530 messages with fake news about the coronavirus have been widely shared. These include claims that the virus is no more deadly than the flu, that it has been grown in a laboratory or caused by the 5G network. These news items and videos were quoted in 12,354 tweets by 3901 accounts.

Nearly half of the confirmed troll accounts were created after the first corona contamination in the Netherlands. They can be recognised by anonymous usernames and profile photos, one-sided Twitter behaviour and a small social network, among other things.

In March, research by Pointer and the CCeit showed that most of the news items that were shared about corona via Twitter were reliable. Hundreds of the more than 10,000 messages turned out to contain fake news. That probably reached thousands of people.