Mayor: immediate blocking of calls from ‘rel-influencers’, decided or not

“Tonight, 9:00 p.m. at the mall, and we’re gonna have a riot with the police.” When it comes to acting mayor Peter den Oudsten of Utrecht, such calls for sedition and violence are taken directly from social media. Even if the call is made in a closed group.

Den Oudsten (PvdA) has asked Minister of Justice Grapperhaus to facilitate access to closed groups and protected social media accounts. Because a small group of influencers has driven the recent riots via Instagram and Snapchat, says the mayor.

“We’ve had five evenings in a row with a couple of hundred young people on the street and this was the pattern. A limited number of vloggers with thousands of followers seems to have had so much influence.” Three men aged 21, 22 and 26 have recently been arrested for sedition. And according to the mayor, that’s taken the sting out of the riots.

In this video you can see some of the vandalism in the night of 14 to 15 August:

The AD writes that the 21-year-old suspect is a pupil from IJsselstein with no criminal record. He is suspected of inciting hundreds of rioters via Snapchat. The man also reported on the riots and the reaction of the police. The 21-year-old has been in prison since 19 August and is not allowed to have contact with anyone except his lawyer, writes the newspaper.

The extent to which the three of them are actually co-responsible for the riots is being investigated. According to the mayor of Utrecht, he has too few powers to track down and tackle relay hunters online. A problem that, according to him, is endorsed by his colleagues in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague, who were also at the meeting with the minister.

‘Plan goes too far’

“Those possibilities are very limited. The problem is that if there are online calls, the mayor can’t have them removed. Partly because of the freedom of speech. Also, in many cases it is difficult to prove in advance that a call will actually lead to a disturbance of public order.”

Bantema thinks that the mayor’s plans go too far: “Of course, there are also a lot of private groups that do not call for disturbances, so where do you make that distinction?”

The mayor objects that the police should be selective. Only in case of concrete suspicions should the police have access to closed messages, he argues. And only in the case of blatant calls for violence may action be taken. “We are concerned with clear messages such as: at 9 p.m. at that mall and we’re going to riot.”

The police have used fake profiles in the fight against ‘rel-influencers’, wrote De CCeit last week. Officers would have had permission to do so from the Public Prosecutor’s Office. Eventually the judge will have to decide which call or message was over the edge and which was not.

Asking the mayor of Utrecht to block inflammatory messages makes little sense, according to the mayor of Utrecht. The platforms can remove this type of content, but it takes time. “You first have to present criminal evidence and the providers let go of their own rules. That doesn’t work if you want something deleted within an hour.”

Grapperhaus said to the mayors that he takes the problem seriously and is working on a solution.