.@Sweden protects "freedom of speech" by blocking 14,400 supposed Nazis on Twitter. Removes block after pushback

Adland: 

The famously controversial PR account for Sweden on Twitter, is once again grabbing news headlines around the world. And not for winning countless ad awards. In 2012 the curator who ran the account tweeted "what's the fuzz with the jews?" Now in 2017 the curator pre-emptively blocked the Israeli foreign ministry, the Israeli ambassador to Sweden, many Swedish politicians both in government and local municipalities, many Swedish police officers, journalists and celebrities. Is this progress? It's certainly ironic when compared to the other award-winning Sweden campaign "the Swedish number", which celebrated that Sweden 'abolished censorship', but was later used by people complaining there's no freedom of speech in Sweden.

The reason the Swedish Institute has for blocking over 14,000 Twitter accounts - many who never interacted with @Sweden or even had tweeted at all - was described in the official press release from the Sweden Institute because they were potentially abusive accounts. The list was put in place by last week's curator Vian Tahir, and the Institute decided to keep it on.

Approximately 12 000 international and Swedish accounts that engage in baiting, threats, hatred and incitement against immigrants, women and LGBTQ-persons, but also against organizations that are committed to human rights. These accounts often have a right-wing extremist and/or a neo-Nazi tendency, and they also incite to violence

They published that statement here with the headline "SI makes powerful move to protect free speech at @Sweden. By the way, have I ever told you that Swedes have no concept of irony? It's true.

So the press release about this block just called the Israeli ambassador to Sweden a Nazi. I can see the problem here.

Due to the piss-poor way this blocklist handled, thought out and how the press release was written, there was an outcry of protests from prominent politicians and pundits including legal pundits, leaving the Swedish Institute no choice but to revert their decision to block and have now unblocked all the people on the list. They've moved fast enough for no lawsuits to be filed.... yet.

You see, in Sweden, we have several laws that this list could have been violating. For one, all Swedish citizens have the legal right to communicate with all government institutions and read their published statements. The Sweden institute is one. But then, they have "curators" who represent them on Twitter, so does it apply here? Another law that it seems to have more closely violated is "åsiktsregistrering", that's the registration of people's personal views. When they added over 14,000 people to a list and labelled the list "nazis" that seems to be exactly what they did. We also have a law called PUL, personuppgiftslagen, where you can not make a database with people without informing the people in the database that you are doing so and getting their consent. The blocklist was reported to the police and several prominent pundits have claimed to have consulted with lawyers.

“Registers of people’s personal views exist in other countries, like Iran, North Korea and Cuba. Or, I shouldn’t say North Korea – over there people are killed directly. But in those countries they have registers of people’s opinions, and exactly as in the case of those registers, it goes without saying that there are many critics and oppositional persons on these lists. But there are also completely innocent people that only by association ended up on the lists”, says Hanif Bali, Member of Parliament from the Moderate Party, to Nyheter Idag.

Hanif Bali also notes there's a disconnect in preemptive blocking of "potentially abusive twitter accounts", being seen as a good thing, but blocking any potentially terrorist migrants from crossing borders is seen as a bad thing. Welcome to 2017 where borders only exist online, Hanif. He continues on Twitter noting: "So we are able to map and build records of 15,000 "Nazis" on Twitter - but we're unable to keep track of 300 jihadis?"

Journalists on the blocklist include Magda Gad, a war correspondent reporting from Syria for Expressen, and Margit Richert who is a culture writer for Svenska Dagbladet. Even The Mayor of Copenhagen can be found on the list, how very un-hygge of @Sweden. The list that @Sweden used corresponds to Vian Tahir's private blocklist to 97.7%. Member of Parliament Hanif Bali comments: "This means that the Swedish Institute fibbed when they say that this is some form of professional compilation, instead it seems to be a most subjective list that this snowflake has composed."

Vian Tahir states on her twitter page and homepage that she's an "Internet safety expert," and thanks to the searchable database of the names provided by Nyheter24 we know that Bill Gates is someone who apparently isn't allowed in her personal Twitter safe space. Insert joke about Windows traumatising people here. Exactly how the list was created has not been elaborated on, but looking at the people blocked it seems to have been generated by taking the followers of some chosen accounts, thereby blocking thousands of accounts who never interacted with @Sweden. Similar to blocklists that gaming companies, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Adland ended up on, the use of which was promoted by the IGDA.

Branding wise, the @Sweden account seems to survive anything, but Vian Tahir's personal branding as internet safety expert has been damaged by the fallout of this. The political debate about this will continue for some time, and legally Sweden Institute may have broken the law but this remains to be seen. The speedy removal of the block after it was announced does not revert damage done to our trust in the institute, and potentially has no effect on the legal case.

Pekka Taipale notes that the Swedish Institutes job is to spread "Swedish culture" to the world, and with this blocklist they have succeeded. Much like the lauded "Swedish number" campaign which proves how naive we all are. Dry sardonic humor, another great Swedish export.

about the author

Dabitch Creative Director, CEO, hell-raising sweetheart and editor of Adland. Globetrotting Swede who has lived and worked in New York, London, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Stockholm.

Comments (8)

  • kidsleepy's picture
    kidsleepy

    So wait... first they have someone who is a Nazi troll at the helm. Now they want to ban all the people even though they aren't Nazis. I'm so confused. Kind of reminds me of that campaign last year when Sweden gave out a number for people to call because they supported freedom of speech and then of course that turned out not to be the case. With all of Sweden's hypocrisy concerning free speech, it should probably shut the fuck up now. Excuse my French. :D

    May 17, 2017
  • Andreas-Udd's picture
    Andreas-Udd

    I spent ten minutes trying to remember my password just to comment on this.

    In a word, this is fucked.

    As you point out, SI is a government agency, and as one it needs to follow the Swedish regeringsformen to a T. That grundlag, which is the base law of the land, assures citzens rights to freedom of the press etcetera, and "Opinion registration in the form of a note of citizens in the public register may, in accordance with Chapter 2, Section 3, regeringsformen not be based solely on his political opinion, without his consent."

    In 2006 Sweden lost a case for registering peoples political opinions in the European Court. This could very well be heading the same way.

    But very few media are even talking about it, and a lot are pretending this has all blown over now, since the block was rolled back.

    This is not just a brand mishap, this is turning out to be a political hot potato and will echo for a while in parliament since so many sitting politicians were on that blocklist. I would never hire Vian Tahir for her workshops or whatever she does in a million years after this.

    May 17, 2017
  • djdomain's picture
    djdomain (not verified)

    Why is it every time Twitter/Google/Facebook say they're going to do something about terrorists/trolls, instead they block/ban people who have done nothing wrong except have the wrong political opinions according to the professional victims and race-baiters.

    May 17, 2017
  • Dabitch's picture
    Dabitch

    To be clear, this blocklist has nothing to do with Twitter as a company. This blocklist was implemented by "Net security expert" Vian Tahir when she was the curator of the Sweden account. The technical aspects of the blocklist in question is kept purposely vague, in the statements made by SI, and it's very likely that Vian Tahir simply used a tool like Block together to create an exportable list to apply to the Sweden account since it matches her private blocklist to 97.7%. You hardly need to be a "net security expert" to click radio buttons.

    Twitter has in the past banned users like Milo, after many temporary shutdown attempts. That's a different story since Twitter itself is just a privately owned platform and not a government voice. Twitter is also founded and hosted in the US where laws are vastly different which makes that a whole different can of worms.

    May 17, 2017
  • Dabitch's picture
    Dabitch

    In hindsight, I'm really angry with myself for not having placed a bet that the press conference was going to be the announcement that Ny dropped the case against Assange.

    May 20, 2017

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