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    Vlaams Belang breaks half a million likes on Facebook

    The far-right party dwarfs any other political group in Belgium in terms of audience on Facebook. © Belga

    Far-right party Vlaams Belang (VB) has broken the half a million likes mark on Facebook, in a boost which comes as it pours thousands into its social media strategy.

    With a total of 500,720 likes, the far-right party’s growth on the social media platform attests to the growing popularity of its brand among voters, the party said.

    VB’s Facebook numbers dwarf those of any other major Belgian political party, both Flemish and Francophone, with its closest rival in terms of online audience, the Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie (N-VA), still hundreds of thousands of likes behind.

    Despite coming out as the biggest party in the regional ballot in May, the N-VA’s online following is virtually half of VB’s, totalling 278,487 likes.

    Online engagement with other parties is even less, ranging from the liberal Open VLD’s 136,718 likes to the roughly 60,000 followers of the Parti Socialiste (PS), the biggest party in both Wallonia and Brussels.

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    VB’s surge in numbers comes as the far-right, populist group helmed by Tom Van Grieken splurges on targeted ads in an attempt to capture larger chunks of the electorate, including disaffected voters of rivalling political groups.

    “It shows that our clear message is still popular, even after the elections,” Van Grieken said in a statement, according to reports by Het Nieuwsblad. “We intend to continue to focus on this in the future because that is how we are able to reach our voters independently and directly.”

    Online Spending

    Since last year, the far-right group — a rebrand of the Vlaams Blok which dissolved after a 2004 trial condemned the party for racism — has set its eyes on beefing up online engagement, particularly focusing on drawing in young voters.

    In the run-up to the May 2019 election, a report showed that the VB had outspent any other Belgian party in terms of social media advertising, with its online campaign bill totalling €149,800.

    Since then, political spending figures on Facebook’s Ad Library show that the party’s online ad spending has risen exponentially, nearing the €1 million mark.

    In the period running from March 2019 until February 2020, the figures show that the VB has spent a total of €839,809 on “ads about social issues, elections or politics.”

    The spending data — made public by the social media platform in the aftermath of scandals which showed it was being used to influence voters in significant elections — also showed that the party had spent over €10,000 on political ads in just one week.

    Posting several times a week, the VB’s social media content ranges from video statements from its leaders to criticism of other politicians and publicity focusing on issues of rising fuel prices or insecurity, with the price tag for each add ranging from €600 to €1,500.

    Following the results of the May 2019 elections, which saw the party record the largest surge in voter support as well as finish in the second position, the VB said it would continue to boost growth by going “all in” on social media.

    “The internet, and also Facebook, is increasingly becoming and endless accumulation of niches,” digital strategist Sven De Coninck told De Morgen. “People find each other on very specific themes and Vlaams Belang responds perfectly to that.”

    Gabriela Galindo
    The Brussels Times