Far-right Flemish nationalist party Vlaams Belang spent €20,000 promoting videos on Facebook of the riots in Brussels which followed Morocco's 2-0 victory over Belgium at the Qatar World Cup, RTBF has reported.
According to researchers, Vlaams Belang's heavy spending was driven by the desire to further incite Belgians' anti-immigrant sentiments, as the rioters — many of whom were of Moroccan or Arab origin — broke shop windows, vandalised metro stops, and burned cars in Brussels' streets.
"The videos confirm Vlaams Belang's worldview: that of the failure of immigration and of the violence that comes from youth of immigrant origin," said Nicolas Baygert, a researcher in communication sciences at IHECS, ULB and Sciences Po Paris. "Vlaams Belang uses these videos to promote its own interpretation of the violence."
Stoking the flames
Although the riots were extensively covered by Belgian and international media outlets, Vlaams Belang, having noticed an opportunity to further stoke Belgians' anti-immigrant fervour, quickly seized the opportunity ensure the tumult's greater visibility on social media.
One such clip, which was published on the evening of the match (27 November) and cost between €10,000 and €15,000 to promote, was captioned by Vlaams Belang as: "Mind-blowing images of the riots at the moment in Brussels. Unacceptable. This scum of immigrants must be tracked down, arrested and severely punished." The video was seen more than a million times.
Three other videos, each costing between €1,500 and €2,000 to promote, were published in the following days, and were captioned in similar terms (e.g. "When will the political parties understand that multicultural society is a failure?"). Each clip was also seen over a million times.
Although the riots were wielded by Belgians' nationalist groups to justify more stringent immigration policies, they also induced a vociferous response within much of Belgium's political mainstream, with Justice Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open VLD) going as far as to suggest that the Belgian Government should consider cutting the benefits of rioters' parents.
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The news of Vlaams Belang's sizeable social media spending follows the publication on Wednesday of a report by political activist group AdLens, which found that Belgium's political parties spent a total of €5 million on Facebook and Instagram ads in 2022, up 6% compared to the year before.
Notably, the study revealed that Belgium's main opposition parties — namely, N-VA, Vlaams Belang, and PTB/PVDA — were responsible for 72% (€3.579 million) of all of Belgium's political ad spending on social media, and that N-VA and Vlaams Belang were among Europe's top three political parties for social media ad spending.
"These figures are very high," said Jan Steurs, a researcher from AdLens, on VRT. "The money spent even far exceeds countries that held elections last year, such as Sweden, the Netherlands or Hungary."
Vlaams Belang is currently the most popular political party in Flanders, garnering 25.5% of Flemings' support, just ahead of its right-wing Flemish nationalist rival N-VA (22%).