Geert Wilders, the leader of the Netherlands’ far-right Party for Freedom (PVV), tweeted a doctored photo of his political rival surrounded by Islamists this week, raising concerns over fake news just five weeks before Dutch elections.
The photo, which Wilders posted on Monday, purports to show Alexander Pechtold, the leader of the Dutch social-liberal party, at a rally holding a sign that reads: “Islam will dominate the world, freedom can go to hell.” Others pictured in the photo are holding up signs that read: “Shariah for the Netherlands,” and “Islam will conquer Europe.” The text above the image read: "Pechtold demonstrates with Hamas terrorists. What is the next step?"
D66 wil Amsterdam afsplitsen als de verkiezingsuitslag tegenvalt.— Geert Wilders (@geertwilderspvv) February 6, 2017
Pechtold demonstreert met Hamas-terroristen.
Is dit de volgende stap? pic.twitter.com/U07jHfQmyh
Soon after Wilders posted the photo, others on Twitter pointed out that the original image was taken at a 2009 demonstration against Wilders, and that Pechtold’s face had been Photoshopped onto someone else.
As The Washington Post reports, the fake image prompted widespread criticism from other Dutch politicians, including Pechtold. "Usually, I laugh at Photoshopped pictures on the internet. But not this time," Pechtold wrote in a Facebook post. "Not because I can't stand up for myself ... but because it gives people false impressions." Pechtold added that he has received online death threats from PVV supporters in the past, and feared that Wilders’ tweet could have “serious consequences.”
Wilders responded by calling Pechtold a “drama queen” on Twitter, and accused him of “standing among Palestinian flags, with friends of Hamas.” He later posted another Photoshopped image of Pechtold as a woman drinking a glass of wine.
The incident has raised concerns over the role that fake news could play in upcoming parliamentary elections, which will be held in the Netherlands on March 15th. Wilders and his anti-immigrant party — which is running on a slogan of “Stop Islam” — have led opinion polls for months, though it seems unlikely that the PVV would gain enough seats to form a majority.
Wilders has emerged as among the most controversial far-right leaders in Europe, and has come under criticism for his harsh anti-Islam views. A Dutch court found Wilders guilty of inciting discrimination in December, after he led an anti-Moroccan chant at a political rally, but the three-judge panel found that he was not guilty of hate speech, and the politician faced no punishment.