How do we fight fake news?

As is often the case around election time, the Dutch discussion about fake news flares up once again. The Dutch Minister of the Interior, Lady Kajsa Ollongren (D66), wants to establish an “independent” institute that is engaged in countering the spreading of “fake news”, which, according to her, and many others, is a major threat to democracy. would form. Does this make sense?

What is fake news?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, a well-known English proverb. Likewise, some “real news” and some “fake news”. In the Middle Ages, answering this question was easy. Real news, that was what the Church (ie the Roman Catholic Church, saw as truth. Or, with the southern neighbors, what the ruling Islamic sect saw as truth. The rest was fake news, or heresy. The spread of fake news took a lot of flee with the invention of the printing press. For example, the Albigenses, who in the twelfth century had similar ideas to Luther and other Protestants centuries later, were a marginal group, their heretical ideas about reading the "holy scriptures" instead. of the interpretation of the church could be quite easily suppressed with brute force. Not many people had a Bible, because it had to be copied by hand: literally a monk's work. That changed after the invention of paper and printing. was no stopping then: the information monopoly of the Roman Catholic Church was quickly broken.

The Internet has a similar effect. In the good old days, when there was no internet yet, many CPN members or journalists were recruited by the BVD (predecessor of the AIVD) [1]. That was also possible, because there was (and is) only a handful of newspapers. All radio and TV stations could also be counted on one hand. Even now, dozens of journalists work as AIVD agents [2]. That also changed with the internet. For a journalist it is no longer a career-technical death sentence if there is no longer employment with newspapers or TV channels. Mainstream controversial talk show host Robert Jensen, for example, set up a much-watched covid-19 policy-critical YouTube channel after his TV show was shut down, with the motto “the [mainstream] media is the virus”. This also applies to journalists such as Joost Niemoller (now active as a weblogger), which is also controversial in the mainstream, or the widely watched (according to the main stream media) online current affairs program Weltschmerz, wholesaling wild conspiracy theories. In addition, there are now thousands of bloggers, vloggers, influencers and, of course, your unsurpassed Hence, there is a great need in the government to combat this uncontrolled proliferation.

Ministry of Truth

This need among both Brussels and Hague regents explains why there is now so much attention for fake news [3]. For example, Ms Kajsa Ollongren now wants an independent administrative body separate from the government (but funded by the government) to tackle so-called fake news [4]. According to the minister, there is 'no question of' a thought police. She emphasizes that it will not be the government that will monitor incorrect information. "The government does not have that role." An independent body that is not tied to a political party or ministry must track down and report on the disinformation. ”
It is not without reason that an old Dutch proverb says: whose bread one eats, whose word one speaks. A politically independent administrative body (we are talking about that now, after all, the question of what is fake news and what is true news is politically charged) is the worst of both worlds. It is not independent and cannot be approached politically. It is pre-eminently a manifestation of the “deep state”.


The inquisition, an institution of the Roman Catholic Church that detected and combated deviations from Roman Catholic doctrine, was also an "independent body not tied to any political party or ministry." The fact that the local government did the dirty work of the stake was no comfort to the burning witches and heretics. Government organization or not: If an organization is authorized by the government, as here, there is no functional difference from a government organization.

Inquisitors engaged in the fight against fake news. Source: Wellcome Trust / Wikimedia Commons

Furthermore, the government is also an important source of misinformation, as became apparent at the start of the covid-19 epidemic, when the Dutch government organization RIVM considered masks “not necessary” [5] and, following the WHO, claimed that asymptomatic patients virus [6]. Data scientist Maurice de Hond has already provided harsh and substantiated criticism on this. That led to a conviction on the social media giants for “fake news” [7]. There are more examples. Powerful interest groups will always hijack and bribe authoritative sources to impose their own fake news (this time labeled “official truth”) on the rest.

What then works? Simple: monitor the standards of good journalism. Teach citizens how to practice thorough investigative journalism, for example through free courses with an exam. This is probably one of the most useful skills to keep our democracy, a democracy. Our democracy is in safer hands with hundreds of thousands of trained citizen journalists than with a few hundred professional journalists often recruited by the AIVD.

1. The long arm of the BVD, memories of the infiltration - Dutch Communists from NRC, 1994
2. 'We should not be so surprised that the AIVD recruits informants among journalists' - Trouw, 2019
3. Countering disinformation and fake news - Dutch national government, undated
4. Ollongren tackles “fake news” about elections - BNR Nieuwsradio, 2020
5. 'Mouth mask is not a realistic way of dampening coronavirus' - AD, 2020
6. WHO withdraws claim: 'Perhaps many corona infections by people without symptoms' - De Morgen, 2020
7. Maurice de Hond disappointed in YouTube due to removal of corona video: 'I say the same as German top virologist!' -, 2020

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