Dutch TV programme claims Facebook accepted fake news election ads

Facebook app on mobile phone

A Dutch investigative television programme claims that Facebook accepted its fake news advertisements aimed at sabotaging Dutch elections next year. Researchers from Brandpunt+ say they created a fake Facebook account and various adverts claiming that ballot boxes were closed or that party leaders were involved in nefarious activities, to be shown to certain target groups on the day of provincial elections next March. They claim that Facebook accepted all adverts for publication except for one claiming CDA leader Sybrand Buma was manipulating the housing market for personal gain – deemed to be ‘discriminatory.’ ‘Before the adverts went online, I took them off,’ writes one researcher. ‘Spreading fake news in the name of a public broadcaster didn’t seem a good idea, so they didn’t reach anyone.’ Facebook has reportedly told the researchers it is taking the instance ‘very seriously’ and launching an internal investigation into why the other fake news adverts were sanctioned. The Dutch government announced earlier this week that it is launching a campaign to combat fake news around the local and European elections next year. DutchNews.nl has contacted Facebook to ask for a response to the allegations.  More >

Book containing fake PM speech withdrawn

A book containing 50 of the ‘most touching, best and most inspiring Dutch speeches’ has been removed from the shelves because a speech attributed to former CDA leader and prime minister Jan-Peter Balkenende proved to be a fake, Trouw reports. The speech, in which Balkenende speaks nostalgically about the days of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), is in fact a satire published on a left wing activist website in 2006, the paper discovered. Jan-Peter Balkenende who is now a professor of Governance, Institutions and Internationalisation at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam, was prime minister from 2002 to 2010. In 2006 he often referred to the ‘VOC mentality’, praising Dutch derring-do but ignoring the exploitation and slavery the Dutch trading company brought to what is now Indonesia. ‘I dream a little of the Golden Age sometimes,’ Balkenende said at the time. ‘The century when this small country worked its way to the top unaided.’ He later apologised for the remarks. Alarm bells did not go off for historian Denise Parengkuan, who compiled the speeches, when she came across the following: ‘It (the VOC) shows what a small country can do. (..) Our heroes from those days Jan Pieterszoon Coen and Michiel de Ruyter had that business instinct, that drive, that VOC mentality of taking what you want (..) They offered many natives new challenges, in the land that we developed for them or in the hereafter.’ Parengkuan admitted she ‘had not checked the speech properly’, Trouw writes. This is not the first time the fake speech has been taken at face value. A recent book on Dutch history, Tot hier en nu verder’ (Until now and beyond) by journalist Cees van Lotringen also contained quotes from the speech and had to be pulped as well. Publisher of the speech book Hans van Maar of Just Publishers told Trouw he was very disappointed. ‘We were very proud of this book. It seems the author did not check the facts. That puts the rest of the books in doubt as well and that is why we have withdrawn it,’ the paper quotes him as saying. The former prime minister, who was offered an apology and a bunch of flowers by the publisher, did not wish to comment, Trouw writes.  More >

Donor children to get free DNA test

Children who are born as a result of IVF treatment with sperm donated anonymously could be offered a free DNA test under a plan being put before parliament on Wednesday. Coalition party ChristenUnie wants children of anonymous donors to be able to find out who their biological father is, public broadcaster NOS reports. Sperm banks have been banned from using anonymous donors since 2004 but some 40,000 children were conceived before the cut-off date. The proposal will be part of Wednesday's health budget discussions and is expected to have the support of most MPs. ‘Every child has a right to know who about his ancestry,' said ChristenUnie MP Carla Dik-Faber. 'It’s important for a sense of identity and could have a bearing on medical problems. That makes it a matter of principle for me and the cost should be no object.’ Donor children who register at the DNA databank have to pay €250 at the moment, while donors are compensated. Some 500 donors have registered until now and around 1000 donor children have put in a request for a DNA test. Recently the association for donor children complained to the Advertising Code Commission about adverts placed in the Netherlands by Spanish fertility clinic IVF Spain, which uses anonymous donors. The treatment takes place in Spain, which means it is not against Dutch law. ‘We think it is not a good thing that there are ads for things that are banned by law in the Netherlands,’ chairman of Stichting Donorkind Ties van der Meer told the AD. The Advertising Code Commission will rule on the matter on Thursday.  More >

Prime minister survives no confidence vote

The Labour party joined forces with the right wing populists PVV and FvD to support a motion of no confidence in prime minister Mark Rutte during Tuesday evening's debate on the government's revised tax plans. The motion, proposed by anti-Islam campaigner Geert Wilders, did not attract as many votes in terms of numbers as previous no-confidence votes, but the support of the Labour party is a blow to the prime minister, the NRC said in its analysis. 'The marriage between the VVD and PvdA ended at the last election but the friendship between VVD prime minister Mark Rutte and his former deputy Lodewijk Asscher is now on the rocks,' the paper said. Neither GroenLinks or 50Plus supported the motion of no confidence but the pro-animal PvdD and the Socialists did. Tuesday night's debate concentrated on the government's decision to scrap plans to abolish the tax on dividends and re-divide the 'savings' to industry. During the debate, Asscher repeatedly called on Rutte to apologise for the way he had tried to scrap the tax, which would have mainly benefited foreign firms. The fact that GroenLinks leader Jesse Klaver refused to support the motion leaves a door open for his party to play the role of 'constructive opposition' if the coalition loses its majority in the senate next year, the NRC pointed out. Opinion polls predict heavy losses for the coalition in March's vote for the 12 provincial governments. However, that door is now closed to the Labour party, given that Asscher has ended the friendship, the NRC said.  More >

'30% ruling plans violate Dutch law'

The government's decision not to include a transition period for current 30% ruling beneficiaries when it slashes the time limit from eight to five years contravenes Dutch law, according to an expert legal opinion prepared for the lobby group fighting the change. The United Expats in the Netherlands group commissioned law firm Stibbe to look into the issue and its lawyers conclude that the plan contravenes principles of legal certainty, predictability and proportionality. In addition, the report says, the lack of a transition period is in 'direct conflict' with tax minister Menno Snel's own policy on transitional agreements, and with principles of due diligence and justification. This means, the law firm says, the proposal is unlikely to survive 'judicial scrutiny' if it becomes the law. In particular, the report criticises the fact that the government has not researched the likely impact on the 11,000 people who will lose the tax break before they expected too, but dismisses them as 'a limited number'. Committee The UNEL has now sent the report to the parliamentary finance committee which is currently re-examining two aspects of government tax policy - the 30% ruling cuts and the decision to scrap the tax on dividends. 'It is shocking that despite the negative advice from the Council of State that the current proposal does not respect the existing term limits for current recipients of the 30% tax ruling,' UNEL spokeswoman Jessica Taylor Piotrowski said. 'This legal document shows that the budget proposal violates Dutch law and is ground for further legal action.' Changes Sources in The Hague have told the Telegraaf that there are signs the government will water down its planned changes to the 30% ruling for international workers. The Telegraaf says the planned cut from eight to five years may not be as severe as the government planned, and the five-year limit may be made longer. Other sources have told DutchNews.nl that that the government may introduce a one year transition period to temper the switch for current beneficiaries who will lose hundreds of euros a month from January 1. The finance ministry has declined to comment on the claims while the talks are ongoing.  More >