Future Tense

After NYT Profile, @Sweden Goes Off the Rails With “Jew” Rant

Back in December, I wrote about the Swedish tourism board’s decision to hand off the official @Sweden Twitter account to a new Swede every week, noting at the time that it was a bold experiment on the boundaries of one of Twitter’s core promises as a platform: the democratization of speech.

On Sunday, the New York Times profiled the many voices of Sweden, drawing renewed interest in the account. @Sweden’s following has grown to 33,000 from less than 5,000 since it started the experiment, including a surge of 5,000 in the two days since it was featured in the Times.

But yesterday, the latest @Sweden, 27-year-old Sonja Abrahamsson, Tweeted this:

And that was only the beginning. Today, as noted by the Wall Street Journal’s social media guru Liz Heron, @Sweden went on an epic and bizarre Twitter rant about “Jews.”

That last Tweet sums it up pretty well: bad idea.

“Sweden stands for certain values—being progressive, democratic, creative,” Patrick Kampmann, the creative director of the organization that runs @Sweden told the Times. “We believed the best way to prove it was to handle the account in a progressive way and give control of it to ordinary Swedes.”

But @Sweden’s curators might be given too much control, or at least not enough advice on how to handle that control:

Mr. Kampmann says he counsels the @Swedens to engage in “their normal Twitter behavior.”

“I tell them, ‘Please, do this with some dignity — remember that this is an official channel and there are a lot of people reading this, so don’t make a fool of yourself,’ ” he said. “It’s only a soft suggestion.”

But any politician or celebrity who has ever had a Twitter meltdown would probably advise Kampmann and the government’s tourism agency to be slightly more cautious with whom they let tweet, or at least give harder suggestions on how to discuss certain topics.

Full disclosure, I’m Jewish and my wife is Swedish and part-Jewish. Her grandmother was a Holocaust survivor, and Raoul Wallenberg, the Swede who helped rescue tens of thousands of Jews from Nazi-occupied Hungary during World War II, is one of her big national heroes. So my experience with Swedes on this front has only been positive.

But Sweden, which historically has been a very homogeneous society, has struggled with xenophobia and anti-Semitism in recent decades since an influx of immigration in the ’90s following the Balkan wars and the first Gulf War.

That’s not to say at all that Sonja is an anti-Semite. But her questions are clearly asked from a place of profound ignorance, which is obviously what hate groups rely on in order to flourish. In order to prevent @Sweden from getting a reputation as a place that is open to such thinking, I think the tourist board might want to either vet their curators better, or offer some better guidelines on racial and ethnic sensitivity. Maybe @Sweden should look to one of its first curators, Bosnian immigrant Hasan Ramic, as an exemplar on how to treat these issues.