Interaction between debates in the Dutch House of Representatives and social media

What is the dynamic between political debate in the Dutch House of Representatives and reactions, commentary and framing on social media? Academics of the Utrecht University Faculty of Humanities and Data School, investigated this question. 

The researchers analysed data from various public sources: publicly accessible groups and accounts on X (previously Twitter) and Telegram where the Dutch language is used. Via large-scale text-analyses, the researchers identified words that may indicate treath or even radicalization. They researched a total of almost 50 million messages about Dutch politics.

The messages in public sources were then compared to the public minutes of Dutch House of Representatives debates and media reports on those. This way, it was investigated whether or not there are connections between the debate in the Dutch House of Representatives and online radicalisation in regards to matters such as the origins of certain terms or ideas. 

No individuals were followed in the research project; the focus was on bigger dynamics: how radical expressions move from the edges of society to mainstream and even the Dutch House of Representatives, the heart of our democracy. 

Anti-institutional sentiment

The researchers’ conclusion: there is an exchange between parliamentary debate and conversations on social media. And this is not just about expanding the exchange of arguments in the Dutch House of Representatives to commentary by involved citizens. The researchers also found strong anti-institutional sentiments: disinformation is disseminated, and perceived political opponents are dehumanised and demonised. 

The research shows that parliamentary debates are connected to commentary on social media in real time, especially on X. As a platform, Telegram is a platform where extreme and radical expressions are more prevalent, and which is therefore further removed from these debates. It is more of a hub for general anti-institutional sentiments. The number of dehumanising, demonising and threatening messages and the presence of conspiracy theories are clearly higher here than on X.

This anti-institutional sentiment undermines trust in democratic processes and institutions, and breaks down the foundation of parliamentary democracy and the open society. The researchers show that members of the Dutch House of Representatives can play a role in the quick dissemination of extreme ideologies to a wider audience.


One example of this is a case study that was done around the Dutch word ’tribunalen’ (’tribunals’). This term was first used with the specific connotation of ’people’s tribunal’ during a Dutch House of Representatives debate in 2021. However, the research shows that certain Telegram groups have been talking about ’tribunalen’ with this meaning long before that. After the term was used in the Dutch House of Representatives, the word was normalised. From that point onwards, ’tribunalen’ became a part of the rhetoric on X, where people often voice their discontent on government policy with the hashtag #tribunalen. 

Intimidating language towards politicians is quickly normalized in this way. After an initial shock, the terms remain a regular part of the language used by politicians, after which resistance decreases while the climate for politicians becomes increasingly intimidating.

The independent research report (in Dutch)  was financed by the National Coordinator for Counterterrorism and Security.