September 2, 2018
August 29, 2018 Dutch weekly De Groene Amsterdammer published:
“Investigating Disinformation on Twitter – How Russian trolls respond to Western fears“
Authors Robert van der Noordaa and Coen van de Ven open with: “Never before so many Russian troll tweets were flushed out in the open and Groene Amsterdammer analyzed nearly three million tweets from a troll factory in St. Petersburg with popular topics: the MH17 disaster and Wilders.”
In the article, the following claims regarding MH17 are made:
– News is the disaster with MH17 is an important theme for Russian trolls.
– The trolls are actively involved with topics relevant to the Netherlands, such as the MH17 disaster.
– A quick grasp of the nearly three million tweets shows more than three thousand messages directly concern the aircraft disaster or the now four-year settlement thereof.
For the fact check of these claims by Groene Amsterdammer the same source was used as by the magazine itself, namely the American news website FiveThirtyEight which put the files with 2,973,341 tweets online.
For starters, let’s take the first Dutch-language tweet with keyword ‘MH17’ that surfaces when consulting the database:
Deze week doken plots twee Nederlanders op in de Russische journaals, kranten en op de radio. Ze spraken over #MH17 https://t.co/A8He0oAiVD
— de Volkskrant (@volkskrant) January 10, 2017
Translation: “This week, two Dutch people appeared in the Russian journals, newspapers and on the radio. They talked about
The database contains two retweets by @chernenkonikola and @glebnikon with a link to this Volkskrant tweet.
Text of the two retweets:”@tomvennink Certainly met @GrahamWP_UK in DNR, he did not participate with a visit to MH17 area, not seen him days after https://t.co/Pa8NvnSp9t.”
Very strange and unprofessional the Russian troll factory makes two ‘handles’ retweet an article that reports negatively about journalists Stefan Beck and Michel Spekkers who are characterized as pro-Russian by their Dutch colleagues. Mistake, or are the retweets not coming from the Russian trolling factory at all?
We search for all Dutch-language tweets mentioning MH17. The database gives a total of ……. two results. Must be an error. Checking another source. It’s true: only the two results that we have already discussed in the tweet of de Volkskrant will appear as a search result.
To avoid missing important information, we look up all tweets in Dutch and check what is written about MH17. Of the 2,973,331 tweets that Groene Amsterdammer says to have analyzed, only 1.167 are marked as Dutch.
screenshot of one of the 1,167 ‘Dutch-language’ tweets.
A request to the proactive reader: please take a few minutes and judge for yourself the quality of the ‘Russian’ influence attempts aimed at the Netherlands.
Fact: of 1,167 tweets 1,165 do not contain any information regarding MH17.
Assessment of tweets in other languages
When asked if any indication has ever been found tweets from Russian trolls in the Russian language have or ever have had any influence on the political debate in the Netherlands, Peter Burger of internationally recognized fact checking initiative, Nieuwscheckers, replies:
“There is also no research substantiating Russian troll tweets in other languages had influence in the Netherlands.” [source]
To further quantify the claim “news is the disaster with MH17 is an important issue for the Russian trolls” we compare the “more than three thousand” tweets of the Russian troll factory with a Dutch ‘handle’ tweeting a lot about MH17.
Of nearly 10,000 tweets, no less than 4,479 contain the term ‘MH17’ until 2 September 2018. Only one Dutch twitterer produces more than the complete troll factory in St. Petersburg.
Propaganda tool @MJoyce2244 challenged to show quote:https://t.co/D8bDlFswF2https://t.co/5sNRxpdQNb@angelijka8 @ccbaxter1960 #MH17 pic.twitter.com/roF3wsquLs
— Max van der Werff (@MaxvanderWerff) March 11, 2017
The amount of MH17 tweets from the Russian troll factory is completely dwarfed by the infamous ‘Michael Joyce’, who posted more than 140,000 anti-Russian tweets, mainly about MH17, and then suddenly disappeared from the face of the earth.
Groene Amsterdammer quotes historian Timothy Snyder:
“A Russian troll has the task of being unrestrainedly radical, more radical than most people are of themselves, and that works particularly well on social media, where emotions spread more easily than facts.”
The fact emotions spread more easily than facts on social media is true and it is sad to observe there are Western journalists making money by spreading anti-Russian claims without providing verifiable evidence.
Not even discussing one MH17 related tweet, Groene Amsterdammer claims MH17 is an important theme for Russian trolls and that they actively interfere regarding this theme. Dutch courage.
The shoddy job by Groene Amsterdammer deserves the qualification ‘shameful’.
The board of editors has to make sure claims are substantiated with the 2,973,341 tweets, or admit the article does not meet the most basic standards for acceptable journalism and publicly retract the article.
The article in Groene Amsterdammer was created with the support of Fund 1877. Blogger Kremlintroll.nl is financially completely independent and is not paid by anyone for his writings.
The expected argument that this fact check is invalid because Groene Amsterdammer based its conclusions (also) on other tweets has to be refuted in advance. The essence of open source social media simply is full transparency. De Groene has been asked to make the selection of the “more than three thousand” tweets public, but has refused to do so. In detail:
De Groene Amsterdammer claims that “more than three thousand messages directly concern the aircraft disaster or the now four-year settlement thereof“.
– The database yields only 1,150 results with search query ‘MH17’.
– With manual selection we found 35 more and count 1.185. [.csv download]
– Asked for an overview of the “more than three thousand” tweets from author Robert van der Noordaa the response: “We use the CSV files as a database and have filtering programs in place. Since I’m still busy with that I’m not going to throw that online now, but possibly a fun idea to do when it is finished. ” [source]
– The discrepancy between 1,150 tweets in the database and the more than 3,000 of De Groene Amsterdammer is explained as follows: “search also MH 17 and MH-17, buk, almaz antay and so we used a whole series. Would be perfect if we could get everything with simple mh17. ” [source]
– Concerning the objection: “If you search for ‘buk’ you get two kinds of results:
1) Tweets already containing MH17 = double counting.
2) Tweets that have nothing to do with MH17. [source]
No substantive response is given.
– The question whether writers of De Groene Amsterdammer are not even willing to publish the list of used keywords is not responded to.
– The question whether the more than two thousand missing tweets differ significantly from the known 1,150 is not responded to.
So far the facts. Now let us assume the approximately two thousand non-Dutch-language tweets Groene Amsterdammer does not want to make public are indeed hidden somewhere in the database. That would not change the findings of this fact check. Why not?
The answer to this question is evident when we realize that two hundred billion (200,000,000,000) tweets are made each year.
Questions for possible follow-up fact checks
– Are the three million tweets really coming from a Russian troll factory?
– Why have the two innocent retweets, like the other 2,973,339 (re) tweets, been removed by the American propaganda platform Twitter?
– Who is wondering to what extent our fragile European souls are being manipulated by the United States?