At least 50 Twitter trolls in the Netherlands are using the social media platform to spread conspiracy theories about coronavirus, researchers at data news website Pointer have found.
The researchers studied 1.7 million tweets about the virus and identified 50 trolls and a further 500 ‘suspect’ accounts. ‘Over the past five months, 530 messages containing misinformation about coronavirus have been shared multiple times,’ Pointer said.
Accounts are classed as trolls if they have ‘anonymous names and photos, show one-sided behaviour on Twitter and have a very small social network.’
The accounts have circulated stories about coronavirus not being more deadly than flu, that it was manufactured in a laboratory and that it has been caused by 5G telecommunications networks, Pointer said. Philanthropist George Soros and Microsoft founder Bill Gates are also said to be behind the pandemic.
A large number of the accounts also have links to the far-right QAnon movement in the US, which touts theories alleging the world is run by a cabal of Satan-worshipping paedophiles and cannibals, Pointer said.
Twitter has already suspended 14 of the anonymous accounts based in the Netherlands because they were distributing fake news and Twitter told Pointer its automated systems had already removed 4.5 million accounts trying to manipulate discussion about Covid-19.
Michael Hameleers, a lecturer in political communication at the University of Amsterdam, told Pointer the troll account users are attempting to both polarise society and spread confusion.
‘They are trying to destabilise society, create mistrust in the mainstream media and spread doubts about government,’ he said. Their motive, he said, is often ideological,’ the idea that you are going against the established order’.
Last week, research bureau Kieskompas published a survey showing some 10% of Dutch people believe in conspiracy theories which have sprung up around coronavirus.
A poll, conducted among a representative group of 8,000 people, showed supporters of right-wing parties are most inclined to believe the government and big pharma are up to no good.
Some 22% of people who vote for the far right PVV said the theory that people will be injected with a chip so their movements can be monitored is a credible one, while 20% of orthodox religious party SGP supporters believed this this might well happen.
Almost one in 10 Forum voor Democratie voters also said the theory had weight.
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