Farmers in the Netherlands erupted in protest in June when the Dutch government revealed its intentions to decrease some greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 70 percent. The farmers said that the measure would, in fact, put them out of business. They obstructed traffic on roads by driving their tractors in the lanes, they poured manure in the streets, and they lit hay bundles on fire.
The demonstrations received extensive coverage from conservative news outlets in the United States. These outlets, such as Breitbart and Fox News, described how the farmers were staging their own versions of this year’s “freedom convoys,” which were organised by Canadian truckers who were opposed to mandates for coronavirus vaccines and other Covid-19 policies. These truckers were protesting against mandates for the vaccines.
But disinformation researchers and State Department officials who monitor online propaganda saw the Dutch protests as feeding a troubling new conspiracy theory. According to this theory, Western nations are attempting to impose mass hunger and induce submission by restricting and hoarding the world’s food supply. The protests in the Netherlands provided fuel for this theory. And the new environmental regulations in the Netherlands, according to the conspiracy theorists, are part of a larger plot by liberal policymakers to use climate change as a ruse to seize control of the farming industry. This theory is supported by the fact that the conspiracy theorists believe that the Netherlands is one of the countries most affected by climate change.
In the majority of its iterations, this misinformation campaign blames “globalists,” a phrase that antisemites on the internet often use as a synonym for Jews. Other accounts connect it to a conspiracy that is purportedly being hatched by environmentalists to coerce people into eating insects rather than meat. This is a sort of disinformation that has been gaining momentum on the extreme right in recent months.
Experts in the field of disinformation are in agreement that Russia is the primary actor behind these fabrications. They said that propaganda from the Kremlin had made its way into the chat rooms of right-wing social media platforms and, on occasion, into the mainstream conservative news media, such as the show hosted by Tucker Carlson on Fox News.
Officials from the United States have said that Russia is attempting to shift blame away from itself for disrupting the global food supply as a result of its invasion of Ukraine. They also warn that these conspiracy theories will only find a more sympathetic audience if Russia’s invasion continues to put pressure on the global markets for food and energy and, as is to be anticipated, maintains prices up into the winter.
The idea that false information about food insecurity can be even more radicalising than some of the most pernicious conspiracy theories currently circulating about vaccines, voter fraud.
“When it comes to the food supply, the conspiracies become existential,” said Joel Finkelstein, co-founder of the Network Contagion Research Institute, which tracks hatred and extremism on social media. If you are vaccinated, you’re going to be ill, but other than that, you should be OK.
During the course of the summer, the Network Contagion Research Institute observed an increase in extremist activity in relation to the protests in the Netherlands on the social media platforms Twitter, Telegram, and 4chan. 4chan is a message board on which conspiracy theories spread largely unchecked. In a report, the institute stated that many of the people spreading false reports of an intentional manipulation of the food supply were devotees of QAnon, a fringe movement that believes a cabal of child traffickers runs the world. QAnon was named as one of the groups that was involved in spreading the false reports.
According to the findings of the investigation, many of these conspiracies make use of the pronoun “they,” which “is often code for ‘the elites,’ and in some instances, the Jewish community.”
These concepts will sometimes make their way into more conventional media venues.
In July, Mr. Carlson invited a Dutch philosopher from the right-wing of the political spectrum to appear on his programme to talk about the revolt in the Netherlands. In a piece that portrayed farmers in a positive light and celebrated their heroism, Mr. Carlson reminded his viewers that “messing with the food supply tends to generate food crises, and ultimately famine.” You can see this happening in poor countries as a direct result of climate activists and the conflict in Ukraine.
According to Leah Bray, the acting coordinator of the Global Engagement Center, which is a division of the State Department that tracks misinformation and disinformation, Russia has used “information manipulation as a weapon to bring about its desired political ends” both in times of peace and now in times of war.
According to the warnings of several experts, the fact that these concepts have not quickly gained traction in the United States should not be seen as an indication that they will not soon spread to a wider audience.