Swedish government blocked 12.000 twitter users “to protect free speech”. Backtracks after criticism
— Isaac Bachman (@isaacbachman) May 16, 2017
Swedish website Nyheter Idag broke the news yesterday that the Swedish government has a list of 12.000 “international and Swedish accounts” which it has blocked from responding on its @sweden twitter account.
The @sweden account is handed to another Swedish citizen every week, who is then allowed to use the channel to promote Sweden internationally. On Monday, the Swedish Institute (SI), a subordinate of the Swedish Foreign Office and administrator of the @sweden account, reported that in view of the “threatening of free speech on the @sweden account by growing internet hate” it had given the then writer on the @sweden account, Vian Tahir:
“approval to use a block list, which was developed in cooperation with other experts in internet hatred. SI has previously given the curators freedom to block users, but this week there has been larger scale blocking, according to the proposed scheme and by way of prevention. This has meant that even accounts that have never before interacted with @sweden have been blocked.“
The Swedish Institute’s spokesperson, Jenny Ljung, has defended this move by saying “our in-depth analysis of @sweden has shown that three-quarters of internet hate comes from accounts who have never interacted with us. To protect ourselves from internet hate, it is not enough to block. We must also work proactively to create a safe arena for our curators.”
The press-release then continues to claim that the blocked accounts consist of:
“About 12 000 international and Swedish accounts dedicated to making threats, and inciting hatred against migrants, women and LGBT people, but also against organizations involved in human rights. These accounts often have right-wing and/or neo-Nazi orientation and even excite violence. Approximately 2000 other spam accounts, such as porn bots and accounts spamming advertisements or DM viruses have also been blocked. In addition, there has also been a small number of accounts blocked based on curator assessment.“
It would seem, however, that the curator’s assessment was influenced more by either political, activist, or personal motives, as the list contains various (international) accounts that can’t possibly fit the description.
Several parliamentarians from different parties are on it, as well as journalists and other public figures. Even though it would be a tough sell to accuse the Israeli Ambassador to Sweden of having a neo-Nazi orientation, he is on the list as well. Since its publication, it has been reported to the police by Swedish citizens and is causing a storm of criticism against the Swedish institute, with accusations of breaking the law, and the whole affair becoming a very sensitive political issue. Hanif Bali, Member of Parliament for the Moderate Party, responded to the almost Orwellian kerfuffle by saying:
“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.“
In response to the backlash on its attempt to silence critical voices on a government website, the Swedish Institute has removed the blocklist. When Nyheter Idag requested the full list originally, the Institute referred to this removal as an excuse to not hand it over, saying the removal “meant that there no longer exists any list to request.” It was only through Nyheter Idag’s hard journalism that the verified list has become available to the public.
Hi @sweden, I WAS UNBLOCKED. Hope all is well and that you don’t find me now as scary as before..
— Isaac Bachman (@isaacbachman) 17 mei 2017