Zeikschrift (which roughly translates to “whiny writing”) is a Dutch media-critical Instagram account founded in 2016 by legal historian and media critic Madeleijn van den Nieuwenhuizen. Van den Nieuwenhuizen came up with this idea after reading a column in which the author described their cleaning lady as “a semi-elderly specimen from Bulgaria with broken knees,'' who was subsequently fired for allegedly not cleaning the floors properly.
The patronizing tone of the text enraged Van den Nieuwenhuizen and she took to the Internet, expecting to find an abundance of negative feedback regarding this condescending column. She couldn't find any. Madeleijn van den Nieuwenhuizen took it upon herself to create an Instagram where content like this could be denounced (Wouters, 2019). Although the account started as an archive of behavior Van den Nieuwenhuizen disapproved of, Zeikschrift has grown exponentially. The Instagram account now has over 77.000 followers, many of whom are key players in the Dutch media (Looijestijn, 2019).
On the Zeikschrift Instagram account, Van den Nieuwenhuizen aims to “expose the nonsense in the Dutch media, from body-shaming to bad framing.” The creator mostly shares pictures and screenshots of articles from the Dutch media that she believes there is something wrong with. Most of the criticism she wields over the media has to do with the lack of diversity, making topics such as sexism, body-shaming, racism, and heteronormativity frequent points of discussion on her Instagram account.
This article will examine how Madeleijn van den Nieuwenhuizen uses digital vigilantism to criticize the Dutch media by analyzing the content shared on Zeikschrift.
Zeikschrift and digital vigilantism
Madeleijn van den Nieuwenhuizen’s Zeikschrift is a clear case of an online practice called digital vigilantism. Digital vigilantism refers to “an emerging practice whereby citizen’s use of ubiquitous and domesticated technologies enable a parallel form of criminal justice.” Digital vigilantism is characterized by “a sense of moral outrage” and “a general sense of offence taking” (Trottier, 2016). Via Zeikschrift, Van den Nieuwenhuizen aims to call out behaviors that she deems to be inappropriate and toxic, as shown in figure 1.
In this post on Zeikschrift, Van den Nieuwenhuizen shared a screenshot of a news article by public broadcast corporation NOS about international Coming Out Day. The author of this NOS article stated that this day is meant to celebrate the acceptance of people with “another sexual or gender identity.”
Van den Nieuwenhuizen criticizes the journalist’s word choice and adds the question “other than whom?” According to the caption accompanying the post, the article by NOS is written from a heterosexual and cisgender viewpoint. She states that heterosexual people should think more about the role they play in maintaining heterosexual and cisgender societal norms. Van den Nieuwenhuizen thus experienced a sense of moral outrage when reading the NOS article and decided to turn to social media in order to call out injustice.
Moreover, digital vigilantism is characterized by the fact that digital media allow users not only to “organise online”, but also “facilitate social harms” and make use of “an expansive and ever-asserting informational infrastructure” (Trottier, 2016). Because of digital media, barriers to publishing are lowered, which allows citizens to discuss targeted individuals and issue calls for action.
Madeleijn van den Nieuwenhuizen makes good use of the fact that regular citizens are able to organise online and facilitate discussion of social harms. The Zeikschrift founder motivates her followers to hold valuable and constructive discussions in the comments, and she herself states that she is open to criticism from folloers, an example of which is shown in figure 2 (Zijp, 2019).
In the post regarding Doutzen Kroes, Van den Nieuwenhuizen calls out the Dutch model for making “insinuations about governmental power abuse and manipulation” and sharing false information with her millions of followers. Van den Nieuwenhuizen adds at the end, however, that she would like her followers to “talk in the comments, especially if you actually think Doutzen has a good point.” By doing this, she invites her followers, and thus regular citizens, into her practice of digital vigilantism, but also encourages an open conversation in which the model does not necessarily get 'punished.'
Through the comments on Zeikschrift's posts, followers are able to further call out toxic behavior and even call out Madeleijn van den Nieuwenhuizen herself when necessary. Madeleijn thus utilizes the opportunity for regular users to share their criticism of Dutch media so that her followers can have a say as well.
This citizen-aspect especially plays a role in Zeikschrift, as the Instagram account is, although political and critical, also very personal. On Instagram Stories, Van den Nieuwenhuizen shares aspects of her everyday life and her work in America.
Instead of portraying herself as an all-knowing commander of the Dutch media, this personalization of her activist Instagram account makes her into a regular online citizen like you and me. Because of this personal edge to Zeikschrift, discussions in the comment section of the account remain, generally speaking, relatively peaceful (Looijestijn, 2019).
Before the advent of social media, journalists were gatekeepers of the public sphere, as they decided which voices made it into the media and which ones did not. Because of this, they were the organizers of public debate through the creation of public stories that were widely distributed.
The advent of social media, however, undermined the journalist’s role as gatekeeper. Nowadays, everyone with an Internet connection can create a social media account and, with that, take on the role of a news provider. Also known as disintermediation, this process allows everyone from elite sources to ordinary citizens to communicate directly with the public (Carlson, 2016).
Because of digitalization and social media, journalists are no longer the only group to decide how we view society through the media we consume. With Zeikschrift, Van den Nieuwenhuizen is now able to make critical comments regarding the media and the reality they represent, even though, when she started, she was merely someone with a journalism degree and the desire for a more just Dutch media. Because of the process of intermediation, she was able to bring her voice into the public sphere and put in her two cents in the organization of public debate.
Zeikschrift and its earnings
Traditionally speaking, journalists paid little attention to feedback from their audience (Tandoc Jr, 2014). Due to new digital affordances, however, the interaction between audiences and messages has become increasingly important. Nowadays, journalists can directly experience how audiences respond to the content they put out through metrics like page views and viewing time. Based on these numbers, journalists can decide to select/de-select stories or edit them accordingly in order to attract a bigger audience (Tandoc Jr, 2014).
Since digital affordances now make it possible for journalists to select/de-select and edit articles after they have been published, these journalists are also able to remove content that they might have received backlash for. Madeleijn van den Nieuwenhuizen’s digital vigilantism through Zeikschrift encourages journalists to select/de-select or edit their articles after they have already been published. Her aim with this is mostly to make them remove toxic behavior, an example of which is shown in figures 4 and 5.
Zeikschrift’s post in figure 4 regards the online newspaper nu.nl’s report of actor Elliot Page coming out as transgender. Madeleijn van den Nieuwenhuizen called out nu.nl for referring to the actor by his pre-transition name, a practice known as deadnaming. After receiving this critical feedback from many sources, including Zeikschrift, nu.nl made use of the digital affordances that come with online newspapers and, as shown in figure 5, changed their article accordingly.
This is, however, not the only time journalists have responded to the criticism brought up by Zeikschrift. Other journalists have also listened to her feedback by editing an article or even taking it offline completely (Nab, 2019). The impact Van den Nieuwenhuizen has created with her Instagram account in these instances showcases that, although Zeikschrift is merely an online phenomenon, it can still bring about physical and possibly moral change in the Dutch media.
Zeikschrift and its attack on individuals
There are, however, downsides to digital vigilantism. The attention put on targeted individuals is often unwanted, intense, and enduring. For example, sharing targeted individuals' personal details or spreading misinformation is often part of digital vigilantism. Digital vigilantism can even go as far as becoming cyber-bullying (Trottier, 2016).
Although Madeleijn van den Nieuwenhuizen encourages her followers to have respectful discussions in the comments, even on Zeikschrift the practice of digital vigilantism can quickly become unpleasant. Followers sometimes begin attacking each other over differing opinions. On one discussion regarding climate change, a follower commented that it was “really creepy” in the comment section because of the amount of passive aggression. This caused the commenter to be “far too scared to do anything wrong and be publicly slaughtered by hundreds of women”.
Van den Nieuwenhuizen attempts to dodge this negative connotation of digital vigilantism by asking her followers to not attack the individuals she discusses. In figure 7, Van den Nieuwenhuizen discusses a travel blogger who stated she “is not ashamed that she travels by plane 25 times per year”. The creator criticized her stance towards travelling by plane while climate change worsens.
At the end of her post, however, Van den Nieuwenhuizen states that she discourages “the search and verbal harassment of this individual blogger” since she “does not specifically care about her in this instance.” Although Van den Nieuwenhuizen aims to criticize Dutch media through Zeikschrift, she is also aware of the negative consequences she can cause through her large following's digital vigilantism. She tries to minimize these negative consequences as much as possible.
Madeleijn van den Nieuwenhuizen started Zeikschrift because she felt there was yet to be a platform that shed light on the darker side of Dutch media. While the Instagram account started as a way to create a visual archive of unjust patterns in media, it has now grown into a media-critical space for both Van den Nieuwenhuizen and her followers to strive for practical and moral change through digital vigilantism.
Van den Nieuwenhuizen’s digital vigilantism is not something that can be brushed off as solely occuring on Instagram. The legal historian and media critic has been able to make such an impact that, in several cases, journalists have responded to it by adapting articles or even taking them offline completely. She has helped to transform journalism and media as we know it. No longer are these areas solely dominated by elite groups - anyone with a little luck can now take part in it.
Although digital vigilantism has some negative connotations and consequences, Van den Nieuwenhuizen has worked to make Zeikschrift into a relatively peaceful platform where people can come together to fight for a more just Dutch media.
Carlson, M. (2016). Sources as News Producers. The SAGE Handbook of Digital Journalism, SAGE Publications.
Looijestijn, E. (2019). Genuanceerd gezeik.
Tandoc Jr, E. C. (2014). Journalism is twerking? How web analytics is changing the process of gatekeeping. Singapore: Nanyang Technological University.
Trottier, D. (2016). Digital Vigilantism as Weaponisation of Visibility.
Wouters, N. (2019). In gesprek met Vogue’s nieuwe columnist Madeleijn van den Nieuwenhuizen.
Zijp, F. (2019). Instragram leent zich goed voor constructief activisme.