Politicians using social media to sow seeds of doubt in an election process and make unfounded claims of fraud is a familiar story in the United States, but it has now also been making an appearance in the Netherlands.
In the lead-up to this week”s polls, far-right social media accounts have been making vague comments that ballots will be rigged.
There is no evidence to support these claims.
The claims have been spread by MP candidates, including Thierry Baudet, the founder and leader of the far-right Forum for Democracy (FVD).
Analysts say that pre-emptive efforts are being made to delegitimise the result of the Dutch elections.
An investigation by Defend Democracy found that baseless claims of voter fraud were “marginal” and have not gained significant online traction.
Its executive director, Alice Stollmeyer, said that the falsities were limited to online “filter bubbles” of far-right voices and conspiracy theorists.
“Less than half of Dutch Twitter users are active users,” Stollmeyer told Euronews. “Even when it’s a trending topic, it’s such a small part of Dutch society, it doesn’t reflect the reality.”
“The wider part of society is just going to vote and trusting that we have free and fair elections”.
Baudet is trying to ‘copy Trump’s playbook’
Unfounded allegations of election fraud dominated the political landscape before, during, and after the 2020 United States presidential elections.
Baseless claims that the election was “stolen” from Donald Trump led to many conspiracy theorists storming the US Capitol building on January 6.
And despite there being a high degree of trust in the Dutch electoral process, similar claims are now being made.
In the days before the Netherlands started voting, hashtags such as #verkiezingsfraude (#electionfraud), #stemfraude (#voterfraud), and even #stopthesteal began to appear online.
Stollmeyer told Euronews that by asking “suggestive questions” about whether the elections would be fair, politicians like Baudet were trying to copy Trump’s tactics.
“Even raising the question about election fairness affects people’s minds when they are voting,” said Stollmeyer.
“That’s just a little seed, but if you plant many of those seeds, then together it can work together to undermine our democratic process.”
“He is preparing the audience for the narrative that the elections might be stolen.”
Stollmeyer reiterated that Defend Democracy’s analysis showed that these false claims had only become a trending topic in the Netherlands briefly since January.
“Baudet has tried to copy Trump’s election playbook but so far on social media he has not been successful.”
Online ‘jokes’ have fed the false narrative of election fraud
According to the report, Defend Democracy found that only a limited number of social media accounts in the Netherlands were discussing “voter fraud”.
On February 22, the municipality of Hoorn accidentally sent voting passes to citizens using an outdated database.
Although all incorrect voting passes were soon invalidated, right-wing social media accounts used the news as a false “warning sign” that the elections could be rigged.
Meanwhile, Stollmeyer said that online “jokes” about the election have been seized upon and magnified by conspiracy theorists.
Quips that voters can vote for two parties if undecided, or that ballots would be torn up if they voted for a certain party are not unfamiliar in any election calendar. Both are fundamentally outlawed by the Dutch electoral regulations
But these “unfortunate” or “inappropriate” online comments are still being used to share with the hashtag #voterfraud, Stollmeyer said.