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Disinfo Alert

Identifies disinformation


Dear reader,

What do mastodon, Musk's takeover of Twitter, the cancel culture and D66gate have in common? In this newsletter we link the current events of the past week.

We look at how actualities are being used by radical thinkers to reinforce or disprove political positions. As a bonus, we share a tip of an interesting find!
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In every newsletter we highlight an account, message, narrative or network that has caught the attention of our researchers on social media in the past week. This week we focus on Elon Musk's Twitter and look at the online conversation about the cancel culture. Both topics seem to have a radical right-wing undertone. In this Featured we show how these relate to each other.
Elon Musk buys Twitter. It was the talk of the day. Musk wants to make some drastic changes. He is a staunch defender of free speech, as his tweets show. According to Musk, social networks should not be allowed to delete comments that, while they may be offensive, are still legal under the right to free speech. In a recent interview at a TED conference, he said: "If it's a gray area, let the tweet exist."
Social media experts warn of various snags to Musk's ideals. This provides scope for intimidation, hate speech, trolls and others who use the platform to target people. Because of this spreading disinformation becomes a lot easier. Misinformation or outright lies about political events, government officials and matters related to public health and safety can cause serious harm to individuals and societies. But Musk does want to combat bots and fake accounts by identifying all users. 

Team Disinfo Alert scrutinized the data of the conversation about Musk's Twitter takeover. In the period from April 1, 2022 to May 2, 2022 14,532 tweets containing the term "Musk" were sent from 7,595 accounts.
Histogram from 01-04-2022 to 02-05-2022 of all Dutch tweets per day in which the name Musk is used.
The absolute peak can be seen on April 26, the day after Twitter was announced to accept Musk's offer. 3,135 tweets were sent on this day. 
At least a quarter of the top 20 most active users talking about Musk have an affinity with Bitcoins - judging by their profile. We also often see the bitcoin culture reflected in the most used hashtags within this topic. Among the top 20 most used hashtags, we find four hashtags that refer to cryptocurrencies: #bitcoin, #crypto, #cryptocurrency and #BTC. The crypto world is happy with the acquisition. 
In addition, (radically) right-wing accounts are also enthusiastic about the takeover. They see Musk's ideals about Twitter benefiting the freedom of speech. Left/progressive accounts, on the other hand, are expressing concerns that the far right is gaining wider access to a more mainstream platform from Musk. The left/progressive is not so much against free speech, but sees danger in the right to spread hateful, manipulative, inauthentic messages. The left/progressive sees more in a safe climate for freedom of expression. This is why Mastodon, a social networking software program that is very similar in appearance to Twitter, has also become trending.
A selection of Dutch tweets about Musk translated in English.
Cancel culture
While the conversation around Musk seems to be waning, a new start is taking place in the uproar. This time around the Dutch television host, Johan Derksen, following an offensive and misplaced confession during the daily Dutch Talkshow ‘Vandaag Inside’. But, it doesn't stop there. The subject of Johan Derksen seems to be an invitation for many Twitter users to mention both the D66Gate and the phenomenon cancel culture. What is striking here is that a right-wing extremist voice also resounds here. 

Remarkable within this, now much-discussed, discussion are the two camps that seem to be forming. On the left/progressive side we see people who came across Derksen's statements and argue that this is absolutely unacceptable. They relate it to #Metoo, the change in zeitgeist, the 'old white men' phenomenon and the cancel culture. On the right we see a kind of domino effect. The narrative we encounter is: why does Sigrid Kaag, the dutch vice minister president, minister of finance and party leader of D66, speak about Derksen while she says nothing about an earlier, similar issue of her party member Van Drimmelen? The fuss about Derksen's rape story is called an orchestrated derivation of the D66Gate. In this case, Derksen only seems to be a reason to take a closer look at the scenes within the party of D66.
A selection of Dutch tweets about cancel culture and D66gate translated in English.
The most striking thing about this discussion is how the conversation about cancel culture flares up with 939 tweets, the day after Derksen himself resigned. The first and most influential wave of tweets (which makes the term trending) seems to address the cancel culture mainly from a right-wing point of view. The possibly suffocating climate and the lack of freedom of expression are cited as defending the statements of Johan Derksen. Here too, freedom of expression seems to be a spark that fuels the discussion further.
Histogram showing the Dutch tweets about D66 gate and cancel culture. It is clear to see
that D66Gate is flaring up with the peak about cancel culture.
We see that freedom of speech has been one of the important topics in the debate between right and left/progressive in the past two weeks. Both parties are using trending current affairs to conduct the discussion. The tricky thing about these discussions is that this point is not about completely different points of view, but about the nuance in them. After all, no one, oriented left or right, will be against freedom of expression, but the interpretation of this concept and how it is put into practice differ. The left/progressive wants to guarantee a safe environment for everyone off- and online, whereas the right believes that everyone should be able to express their opinion about everything.

It is clear that the current online discussion flows from and to various topics that can be linked together. Within this week's featured, we see no authentic or manipulative media behavior. What we do see, however, is a polarized discussion where there seems to be a clear dividing line between left and right. 

So what do Mastodon, Musk's takeover of Twitter, the cancel culture and D66Gate have in common? All four trending topics are used to reinforce or disprove political positions on freedom of expression.  
An interesting find!
On May 2, we found a group of accounts that are trying to influence Western perspectives regarding Ukraine in a coordinated way from Iran. They also focus specifically on the Netherlands. The accounts gather around a hashtag and all use the exact same texts. These texts make a comparison between Russia's invasion of Ukraine and Israel's treatment of Palestinians. The accounts question why Russia is and Israel is not sanctioned. They spread the narrative that the West is hypocritical because it supports Ukraine but not the Palestinians. The accounts use the same messages, texts and images to push this message and do so in Dutch(!).
Want to know more about Iranian accounts? Contact us!

Trend Watching

Here you will find the most notable, disinformation or inauthentic trending topics that are investigated daily by our researchers. Because of the war in Ukraine, we make a distinction between a Trend Watching for Ukraine and a Local Trend Watching.
Trending Topics Ukraine

1. Twitter: Ukraine

Period: 18-04-2022 to 01-05-2022

Number of tweets found: 43,794 tweets sent by 15,648 accounts

Five most active accounts: @gvankeulen, @anticovidiano74, @jansensadriaan, @gerriebijl @jasonwolmuis

Narratives: We spend a lot of money for the army of Ukraine but do nothing for our own population/army; good for Ukraine and the EU that Macron won.

Notes: Among the top 10 most liked tweets, we see politicians from FVD and accounts supporting the Kremlin narrative. News that Dutch armored howitzers are going to Ukraine arouses outrage among right-wing accounts. 

The conversation about Ukraine is declining on Dutch Twitter. This is not clearly visible in a histogram over the period analyzed in this week, but if we look over a longer period of time, we can clearly see that the conversation about Ukraine is declining since the start of the war.

Histogram from April 18, 2022 to May 1, 2022 of all tweets per day using the terms 'Ukraine' and/or 'Ukrainian'.
Although terms related to the war in Ukraine are no longer as present in the Dutch trending topics on Twitter as they were a few weeks ago, we still see an average of 2,919 tweets per day in this dataset. 
In the past two weeks, we have seen that among the top 20 most shared domains in the conversation about Ukraine, the vast majority comes from the mainstream media. At least 15% of the top 20 come from alternative/far right-wing media outlets such as FrontNieuws, Dissident One and Nine For News. 
Request dataset

 2. Twitter: Nuclear weapons

Period: 21-02-2022 to 01-05-2022

Number of tweets: 42.338 tweets sent by 16.172 accounts

Five most active accounts: @divercity10, @hdevreij, @h_bouwmeester, @klmlogica, @mfahmedmusad1

Narratives: European leaders are playing with fire; Thierry Baudet is a traitor because he is associating with an enemy who wants to use nuclear weapons.

Remarks: #Baudetlandverrader (#Baudettraitor) and #Thierryiseenlandverrader (#Thierryisatraitor) emerged as two of the most frequently used hashtags in this data analysis; respectively, they have been used 44 and 35 times in the 42,338 tweets.

 Histogram from 21/02/2022 to 01/05/2022 of tweets discussing nuclear weapons. 

The absolute peak can be seen on February 27, three days after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We found 5,173 Dutch tweets talking about nuclear weapons on this peak day. In the first two weeks after the raid, an average of 1,500 tweets per day about this theme are sent. After March 9, the conversation about nuclear weapons collapses; an average of 365 tweets are sent per day. From April 26, a small increase can be observed in the discourse about nuclear weapons, this is thanks to Putin who suggests that he does not hesitate to use 'very fast weapons'.

Request dataset
Local Trending Topics

1. Twitter: #viergeenkoningsdag (#dontcelebratekingsday)

Period: 18-04-2022 to 01-05-2022

number of tweets: 1.300 tweets sent by 924 accounts

Five most active accounts: @backupherb, @flippieflipser, @bernardnl00eng, @alewyn16, @empertjes_

Narratives: boycott King's Day because the Dutch royal family is participating in the WEF agenda; the king is a puppet of the WEF; the royal family has been wrong since WWII.

Remarks: This hashtag is trending topic on April 23. The hashtag is first used by FVD (a Dutch right wing political party) affiliated advertiser Jan Bennink and the hashtag subsequently becomes a campaign by FVD supporters. An article by Bennink is the best shared URL within this topic.

Histogram of tweets between April 18 and May 1, 2022.

The hashtag was first used on 22 april. The absolute peak is on 23 april: we found 771 tweets posted on this day.

Request dataset

2. Twitter: Mastodon

Period: 01-04-2022 to 02-05-2022

Number of Tweets: 1.058 tweets sent by 602 accounts

Five most active accounts: @catgirlmeike, @joenepraat, @larseijssen, @foaroan, @harld_

Narratives: use Mastodon; Musk takeover makes Twitter an unsafe place.

Remarks: Mastodon is a social network open source software program that is very similar in appearance to Twitter, but has more tools for users to counteract abuse. Because of this, it is seen as a safe alternative to Twitter. Mastodon was a trending topic on April 25 after it was announced that Musk had taken over Twitter. Accounts dealing with this theme are mainly in the left/progressive corner.

Histogram showing the number of Dutch tweets between 01-04-2022 and 02-05-2022 that mention Mastodon.
Absolute peak on April 25 (418 tweets).

3. Twitter: D66Gate

Period: 17-04-2022 to 01-05-2022

Number of tweets: 2.479 tweets sent by 1.320 accounts

Five most accounts: @evanderclooten, @noworrienow1970, @real_krukeltje, @de5december, @nieuwepolikliek

Narratives: Minister Kaag covers up MeToo affair at D66; this is what D66 means by new leadership; why does Kaag express herself about Derksen while she does not say anything about van Drimmelen; fuss about Derksen's rape story is an orchestrated distraction from D66Gate. 

Remarks: D66gate is trending topic on April 21 and 22, 2022. The hashtag is used to suggest that D66 is covering up an abusive affair. The main driver of this topic is Jan Dijkgraaf, he sends a tweet on April 20 in which he uses the hashtag and links to his article about D66. From that moment on, use of the hashtag increases. Other drivers are corona skeptics, supporters of Forum for Democracy (FVD) and broadcaster Ongehoord Nederland. In short, it is mainly mentioned by the radical right-wing Dutch.

Histogram of tweets per day between 17-04-2022 and 01-05-2022 mentioning D66gate. 

We see an absolute peak on April 21 thanks to 1,221 tweets sent by 734 accounts. On April 27 we see a small peak again, 356 tweets are sent by 246 accounts. This is thanks to accounts tweeting about Derksen's accusations that are being hooked up with the hashtag #D66Gate.

Request dataset

4. Twitter: cancel culture

Period: 26-04-2022 to 02-05-2022

Number of tweets: 2.057 tweets sent by 1.437 accounts

Five most active accounts: @sjakijo, @tweety_account, @janzweers2, @nielsahob2, @research_fake

Narratives: Johan Derksen's dismissal is due to his own performance and has nothing to do with cancel culture; Derksen's dismissal has everything to do with cancel culture; Derksen should just continue with his program.

Remarks: Cancel culture was trending topic on April 30th following a conversation about the resignation of Johan Derksen. Derksen's name is mentioned in 615 of the 2,057 tweets with the term 'cancel culture'. If we look at the tweets with the most likes, the idea that Derksen is to blame for the dismissal dominates. The term 'woke' is often used in combination with cancel culture: the term appears in 589 of the 2,057 tweets.

Histogram of tweets with the word 'cancelcultuur' between 26-04-2022 and 02-05-2022.

The absolute peak can be seen a day after Derksen resigned; on April 29. To this day we find 939 tweets in which the term 'cancel culture' occurs.

Request dataset

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