Dutch parliament leader demands Twitter take action against threats targeting politicians

Twitter must immediately take action against violent messages shared by the social media site’s users which target members of the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament, said Vera Bergkamp. The Tweede Kamer chair wrote a letter to Twitter about the matter, and published it on her own Twitter profile on Wednesday.

In the letter, she specifically referenced tweets “showing videos and/or images containing (death) threats and calls for violence and even murder.” She continued to state, “These are probably punishable under Dutch criminal law.”

The letter was not meant to be a reference to any one specific incident, a spokesperson for the political leader told newswire ANP. Politicians in the Netherlands have increasingly become the target of threats online, a trend which began before the coronavirus pandemic and intensified during the health crisis. Several members of parliament, including PVV party leader Geert Wilders has been vocal about the issue, sharing tweets which are sent as threats to him.

She also acknowledged the importance of freedom of expression, but said that Twitter has “a responsibility to create a safe space for free expression and to ensure that on Twitter, people have safe, inclusive and authentic conversations.”

Bergkamp credited Twitter for working to remove messages that violate its policies regarding toxic behavior, and for removing illegal content in the past. “These horrendous videos and images shared online undermine that policy,” she said.

Twitter itself could not be reached for comment. Since the takeover by Elon Musk, the spokespersons have been cut back. Emails with questions are automatically answered with a turd emoji. The same happened in this case.

A week ago, both the Dutch Public Prosecution Service and a police judge sent a clear message to people who threatened MPs and ministers online, demonstrating that it is unacceptable and will be punished. Politicians must be able to do their work “under all circumstances in safety and freedom”, the public prosecutor argued. The judge agreed.

In the five court cases that were dealt with consecutively by the police judge in The Hague last Tuesday, higher sentences were imposed than for threats against people who do not work in public service. Suspended prison sentences of between two and three weeks, community service of 40 to 60 hours and a fine of 600 euros were imposed on those convicted of making threats.

The threats that were dealt with at these hearings were aimed at MPs Kauthar Bouchallikht (GroenLinks) and Sjoerd Sjoerdsma (D66), among others.

Last year, 1,125 threats and and incidents of inciting others to violence were reported by MPs and ministers, almost twice as many as the year before, the Public Prosecution Service announced last week. In 2021, there were still 588 reports filed with the Threatened Politicians Team (TBP).

The increase is mainly due to the increased number of reports by Geert Wilders. At least half of the 1,125 reports came from the PVV leader.

Reporting by ANP and NL Times

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