Belgium's far-right Vlaams Belang party launched its own mobile application, which was presented as a channel for "politically incorrect" information to be shared.
The party is the first in the country to launch such an app and party chair Tom Van Grieken highlighted it had become "a political necessity" amid rising censorship against the party and its message.
"This innovation comes as 'Big Tech' companies such as Facebook and Twitter are targeting the party. "With this app, we are taking matters into our own hands: don't wait until it's too late, break the censorship yourself!" he wrote in a press release, referring to the app's slogan.
He added that platforms such as Google, Facebook and Twitter "have long since ceased to be the free havens on the internet where everyone and every opinion is welcome," referring to both his Twitter and Facebook accounts being blocked after he shared photos and messages that violated the sites' rules, adding that it is "not unlikely that the Facebook page of Vlaams Belang will be removed by the 2024 elections."
The party submitted a bill on censorship to the Parliament earlier this year, arguing that only those messages that are in contradiction with Belgian laws should be removed from social media, “not just what these companies don’t like,” Van Grieken said.
The party also recently announced that it will take an initiative at the Flemish level against online media censorship.
Collecting data and targeting voters
After information about the app being shared across television (on the VTM news programme) as well as on social media, the app was placed in the top three most popular free app list on the Apple store.
Van Grieken, in a promotional video, said that after downloading the application, "we will make sure, together, that 'our people come back to the top'."
The app will also function as a platform for interaction between activists (and sympathisers), but people can also use it to directly get in touch with the party. On the app, user can also "earn points" by liking something.
According to political communications specialist Reinout Van Zandycke, that fits in perfectly with the strategy of inciting members and interested parties to take action. "They want to motivate people to share messages in order to increase the reach of those messages," he told VRT News.
However, Van Zandycke argued that the main goal of the app will be to collect data, which will help the party know what keeps their target group awake, information it can later use in its campaigns and to convince voters.
"It is difficult for them to expand their reach much further on social media; they are gradually reaching a peak there. They had to look for other ways and so an app like this is a logical next step," he said.
Despite Van Grieken stressing that all gathered data is kept safe in accordance with GDPR legislation, Van Zandycke warned users to "be critical of the messages you see and check the privacy settings."