This is a piece about online bullying. About intimidation. About fragility. About space. And about the unsettling things that happened to me after I spoke out about content posted by an “anonymous” Twitter account.
Maybe you’re thinking, there she goes again with her “witch hunt”, or maybe you have no idea at all what this is about. I would like to ask you to read along because this is important for so many, if not all of us.
Two weeks ago I posted a number of tweets in which I asked aloud whether certain statements from an “anonymous” Twitter account had indeed been made by Stef van der Ziel. And when that account then, instead of stopping as requested, continued to harass, I asked Stef van der Ziel via the same channel, to stop.
This account was established in 2013 and acted, particularly in the beginning, as a kind of thorn in the side of the compact Groningen network. However, as the years passed, the tone changed. Not only were individuals attacked, but groups of people as well. Racist statements appeared, homophobic tweets, sexist observations, etc. People have been systematically harassed over the years all under the guise of “a joke.” If it upset you, then you shouldn’t be so sensitive.
For a long time it was unclear who was behind this account, which, back then, was unimportant. But for this story, it is, because in addition to the harassment of individuals and groups of people, the account also interfered with local politics and other social activities. In this case it mainly matters because of who turned out to be behind the account: Stef van der Ziel, et al.
Now it may very well be that you have no idea who Stef van der Ziel is, but that is relevant to this story. Quite relevant, I must say. Stef is an internet entrepreneur from Groningen and also holds a number of influential positions, such as member of the Supervisory Board of RTV Noord (the local public broadcaster) and ambassador of the Beatrix Children’s Hospital, part of the UMCG. He also recently announced that he would join the board of VNO-NCW Noord. Something to keep in mind: Groningen is small but we do big business here. The network within which orders are awarded, deals are closed and shares are sold or sold back and forth is small.
Well, what should you do with this information? Wait for it. Hang in there. It is not a pretty story, but it must be told.
Back to my Tweets. I asked if the content that included the n-word had indeed been posted by Stef van der Ziel and then asked if the anonymous account could stop harassing me. Just like that, my two days later, my phone rang: it was an unknown number. Not unusual. Suddenly, I had Stef on the phone. We both know, Stef, how that conversation started and how it ended. I had to delete my Tweets that associated you with the account because there was an email ready to send to the police along with a report against me for slander and libel.
That was the beginning of the conversation. For the record: I don’t know Stef. We talked maybe once or twice two years ago. We followed each other on social media (more on that later). We have no business ties, no ties on a personal level and have had no conflict.
Now, I am naturally not easily impressed, but you got my attention, Stef. You were angry. You were compelling. You had a very unpleasant in tone. The Tweets had to go, because you are not Driekus Vierkant, you said. You didn’t know who was either; you had transferred the account, but didn’t mention when. You did tell me what I already knew , that you had been involved in it and you weren’t alone. You had an editorial team.
I then explained to you that only one person could be demonstrably linked to this account and that if someone else is now “at the controls” I would like to hear who it is, so that I could address them. But until then I would continue to appeal to you, especially regarding the older content that you admit to have been involved with. That it wasn’t about you as a person, but about the account. That I was tired of years of all those nasty ‘hot-takes.’ Not just me, but others too. “Who?” you asked. I told you about the others and also the groups of people. I have indicated to you that my only goal is to stop this hasrassment. We could have left it at that, but you wanted to know me which tweets to me would fall under ‘bullying.’ That’s where a long talk began on how this account wasn’t bullying, but teasing. How the blogs worked so well. That I shouldn’t take things out of context (as I would have done with the n-word) and that I should have done better research, because you had stated several times that you were not Driekus. That I was not allowed to associate you with the account. That it was a fictional character, so the expressed opinions could not be identified with the authors. That it was silly to ask to reveal who wrote what, because that was impossible. You said it was not your intention to hurt people but if that had happened, you were sorry, but that it was not the intention. When I asked you to just respond to my tweets, you didn’t want to. You’d rather called me to say you were going to file a report. And so this (as people interpreted it) Twitter fit, was elevated from the online space.
The conversation ended when I hung up on you because you kept talking after I announced that I wanted to end the conversation.
A moment later it turned out that this had not been the only call. You told Yvanka the same thing the previous Sunday at 8:20 AM. I write with her permission.
You told me to do better research. I did that. I understand that you were able to convince people for years that you had nothing to do with the content and the information, the bullying and the drama on Driekus Vierkant. You are certainly convincing. You have your story and your defense, your explanation and your rhetoric in order. It was all about intention, you said. Everything is the responsibility of the receiver and never the sender, you mean that, right?
So I checked to see if I could find anything about the domain that has been used by the account for years and was still referring to it until after this became known. Short version: it ran on the same servers as Stef’s company and is still linked to domains that belong to him. I shared that. Not with the intention of being annoying, but with the intention of really cutting all ties. I haven’t heard anything from you, Stef. Nor of the declaration you announced. Even if you indicated to someone else that I was not open to reason and had indeed been included in that declaration.
You were silent, your friends were riled up. But a lot of people don’t agitate in any way. And I think I know why. Not only because you claim to others that my reading of our telephone conversation is different from yours, but precisely because you felt the freedom to approach me in this way. It was intimidating and it felt unsafe. Even still, actually. The warnings I’ve received have been to ensure that I keep my mouth shut.
Hold on! I’m not done yet. Mainly because after I shared on Twitter the conversation I’d been dealing with, a lot happened. I got calls and messages from people I had never heard of. Journalists called. Lawyers offered free services. My DMs exploded. And the rumors started — Stef suggested it himself- that I have more than just my own agenda. To clarify: I don’t have an agenda. I am nobody’s puppet and I’m not fighting battles for anyone with any personal or business beef with Stef. For the insiders: I only followed TopDutch and the fuss around it moderately because it is boring and hard to understand. I have my own agenda. Mine and mine alone. It goes like this:
I have to reiterate that I have never had a conflict with Stef, or maybe I did because his definition of conflict is different than mine. In June 2020 I had a discussion on Twitter that included Stef and Joost van Keulen, former alderman for Economic Affairs of Groningen. We disagreed about the moral justice of the BLM protest on Dam Square in light of the covid measures. It was unpleasant, but not the most intense conversation I’ve ever had. Incidentally, there were other people were involved too. Joost van Keulen, in particular, was angry because it was suggested that the Tweet that started it could be racist. Well, these things can happen, I thought. First of all, I noticed that I received a number of text messages from people who thought it was brave how I had spoken out against these two men. Brave, I thought. How is it brave? I often speak out.
On June 3rd, a blog by Driekus Vierkant appeared on Geen Stijl called: “Progression in the North.” Not only was it clearly about the aforementioned discussion, but also tweets from the account I had referred to. Not directly, of course, because that’s not how it works with Driekus Vierkant. References when he really wants to harm (without the intention of doing harm, of course) are nasty and only legible for the recipient. It is a very clever form of gaslighting: a psychological game he can always hide behind: “haha do you really think this is about you, haha, megalomania” or something to that effect. It can never be proved. Always untrue, in the eye of the beholder, don’t be hurt, have a sense humor.
I do not know the intention of this piece. I can only tell you what it told me: if you have a big mouth, then you will be on Geen Stijl. Not initially with your name, but maybe next time. We do that. And you don’t know who I am. So what do you wanna do girl? Well, what could I do? Not much. So I unfollowed the two men (I had kicked Driekus out of my timeline a long time ago) and got on with my life. However, it had also told me that Driekus Vierkant has a connection with either Stef van der Ziel or Joost van Keulen, or with both.
Not long afterwards, NCRV-KRO published an article in which they had indeed linked the Driekus Vierkant account to Stef van der Ziel. His response? “It is suspected that the authors behind the character just eat broccoli. I sometimes eat broccoli myself, but there are indeed days when I don’t eat it, all really suspicious,” he emailed us. The signature of the e-mail was with “Three Kisses,” which is the same signature that Driekus Vierkant uses.
Nothing happened. Well, almost nothing. All board positions remained intact and the world kept turning, including the world of Driekus Vierkant. The account just continued. Stef just kept going. Did those two still have a connection afterwards? I suspect so. I still hear from people that this goes on to this day. In any case, there is a technical connection, via the domain name. But there’s no other way to prove involvement, is there? Again: cleverly done. Because no matter how you approach this matter, there is always an innocent hiding place from which Stef van der Ziel can shout that it was not him. “Several people were involved” you said during our telephone conversation. “Then they can still take responsibility for the things they have posted” I asked you. “That is not up to me” was your answer. Incidentally, there is one person who has already done so. He argues against the removal of the content, because it is a sin. He calls the account a “beautiful concept of sharp minds who wanted to address abuses (in politics, among others) but were afraid of whistleblower scenes and for that reason created a fictional character.” I hope I don’t have to explain the irony here. By the way, this person informed me indirectly that that they do not support Stef in the phone call he made to me. Duly noted.
Furthermore, it remains quiet at “de Driekussen”. Nobody knows anymore what, when, how and by whom. Nobody can be implicated, because “everyone is a Driekus.” It went well for a long time.
As far as I’m concerned, we won’t pursue this. Apart from the fact that you had the audacity to call me with the brazen demand that I needed to undo what I did. I do not want to engage with you on this level.
Because you can find what you find. It’s a bit more problematic if you only dare to find what you find from behind an anonymous and non-traceable account. “But we were whistleblowers.” Whistleblowers are in real danger and — more importantly — serve a general interest. Not a self-interest. And I suspect that the anonymity certainly served its own interest. Not just for entertainment, but also to intimidate people. I have experienced that myself. And still.
Even more problematic is the fact that you, your friends and your editors are close by. Hypothetically, it can work that you are sitting at a table with someone and a little later, or a day later, or a month later, use that information to put someone in a shirt. You are dealing with confidential information, but you do not seem to trust it. Because you think you are elusive. It is a useful vehicle for many things. And for many people, I now believe that too. You cannot just wear all hats as you please and switch hats at your leisure . There are codes. There are ethics. Joost van Keulen is so often referred to as the founder or part of this collective. That too appears to be an open secret. Is this correct, Joost?
I don’t even know what exactly I find the most problematic, because it is all so easy to solve. But “Driekus” refuses to part with the content that has been shared that has corrupted, that is racist, transphobic, homophobic and sexist, all apart from the political snake pit that apparently opened up, I really don’t want anything to do with that at all. What I have mentioned to Stef as a suggestion is that he can just say publicly: indeed this was me and I no longer support this. Or be brave: just delete that content and cancel the account. Then you will never hear from me again.
This is not at all about Stef et al. For me, this is about making the bullying stop. This account has exploited the fact that it seemed untraceable in order to harass people. Not just once, but continually. It still continues to bully me and others. Driekus will deny this, as they have done historically, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Accounts like this, people like this, are taking up space that isn’t theirs. And I started where it made sense: with you, Stef. And if you really have nothing to do with it anymore, then simply tell us who it is and I address them. Realize that this does not absolve you of wrongdoing. You need to be held accountable and accept responsibility for your actions against the victims of your bullying and intimidation campaigns.
It is evident that Driekus has not stopped: a recent tweet that “funny” linked to the trending #kutkaag. “What’s with Kaag’s cunt?” This happened the day before a study was published about how women in the “online public space” receive a disproportionate amount of hateful reactions (De Groene Amsterdammer: Misogyny as a political weapon) compared to men. Well, that’s not really news is it? This has been proven in many previous studies. This kind of intimidation makes women reluctant to get involved in debate, either in a personal capacity or from a political seat. Because if you do, it’s your turn, you’re in the spotlight and enduring the online abuse. Sometimes for a short period, sometimes for a longer period of time, occasionally for years. I have experienced that myself several times and a number of those times were thanks to the Driekus Vierkant alias… you get it. And if that applies to me as a white woman, what must it be like for groups that are even less represented and that regularly belittle you?
It seems hard to digest that voices that used to be quiet, almost inaudible and easily ignored, are now gaining in volume.
@Driekus Vierkant , you have made an effort for years to keep people silent. Whether it was your intention does not matter in any way. Any doubt you sow anywhere about whether or not something should be said, otherwise you will be bullied, or worse, is dangerous. Especially when you are disguised as a troll. It literally makes people feel uncomfortable online and therefore offline as well. Well, maybe not everyone; you do have a fan base. Again: after I spoke up, I was warned about Stef and what he could do. I was also warned of these things by Stef himself.
I would like to reiterate to Stef: if you do not want to be associated with this account in any way, you have the solution in your own hands. Furthermore, personally, I offer you best wishes and warm regards; this only became personal when you called me. It’s never too late to turn everything around.
You were already aware of much of what is written here, but not necessarily how it felt for me personally.
Well, it feels the same as when I was bullied in elementary school. Only then I could look my attacker in the eye.
At the end of this Ducth article you can find a small anthology of more than 140,000 tweets, including the tweets I posted after Stef called me. You can decide for yourself whether these are all jokes. A few examples are included here.