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Sweden Protect Free Speech: Blocking 14,000 People on Twitter
The government agency behind Sweden’s official Twitter account chose to keep an extensive list of users blocked by a previous curator of @sweden. But the move stirred public outrage, and all 14,000 users were unblocked the next day.
Sweden’s well-known official Twitter account is curated by a new Swede every week, and is run by the Swedish Institute. As a way of presenting a multitude of images of Sweden, the government agency allows each curator to freely express their own views and interact with the rest of the world using the @sweden Twitter handle.
Between May 8th and 14th the account was curated by Vian Tahir, an online security expert who helps protect people against online bullying and trolls. During her week managing the official Swedish Twitter account, she blocked a total of 14,000 Twitter accounts deemed to be involved in “threats against migrants, women and LGBTQ people”, or suspected of right-wing extremist or neo-Nazi links.
“In our deep analysis of @sweden we have seen that three quarters of the online bullying comes from accounts that have never previously interacted with us,” Jenny Ljung, head of the Brand Sweden Unit at the Swedish Institute, said in a statement on Sunday.
“This shows that in order to be protected against online bullying it does not suffice to block an account once something happens. We also need to take preventive measures in order to create a safe arena for our curators,” she said.
But the move was harshly criticised after a copy of the list was leaked online, and was found to include members of the Swedish parliament, the Israeli ambassador to Sweden, newspaper Expressen’s foreign correspondent Magda Gad, and the well-known Swedish author Jonas Gardell, among many others.
Upset Twitter users contacted the Swedish Institute demanding answers as to why they had been blocked for no apparent reason, and this week’s @sweden curator, Tobias Johnsson, received an onslaught of abuse despite having nothing to do with the controversial blocking.
Other critics called into question why a government agency was registering people as having “right-wing extremist or neo-Nazi” links.
“Attributing such opinions is a serious thing, especially when done by a government agency. In that case there should of course be a reason for the accusation, which in many of these cases is lacking,” wrote Aleksandra Boscanin in an editorial for Göteborgs-Posten.
Responding to the criticism, the Swedish Institute said on Monday that it was unblocking all 14,000 users.
“SI has been contacted by a number of people who are upset because they feel they were blocked by @sweden on false grounds. We need to take a step back in order to more carefully review our blocking criteria,” Jenny Ljung said.
“We truly apologise to anyone who felt blocked without cause.”